Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jared Loughner and the Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords

Assassination Attempt Recorded Twitter

Online, reports of the shooting were unfolding in real time — like a live blog gone horribly wrong. At 9:54 a.m., Loughner arrived on the scene.

When Loughner opened fire, reports began to spread almost immediately on Twitter.

Scene of the shooting
Scene of the shooting

One of the first Tweets by user @bigvic came at 10:10 a.m.: "Giffords got shot?"

Not a second later, another user wrote: "Just heard Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 10 other people shot and killed at Oracle and Ina Safeway."

The rumors and ever-changing information shifted so quickly, it was hard to keep up.

Another user, @onJustice wrote at 10:08: "My sources tell me (Completely unconfirmed) that Giffords was stuck in the head by gunman at Safeway Oracle and Ina."

Shortly thereafter, NPR reported on the shooting, and people Tweeted the link.

Soon Twitter was linking to another NPR update, one that turned out to be wrong, incorrectly reporting that Giffords was dead.

By 11 a.m., news organizations were following NPR's lead and reporting that Giffords was dead.

In the echo chamber of the Internet, Giffords' death was assumed to be all-but-certain. Even her husband, Mark Kelly, started to grieve.

Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, random bits of data, some true, some false began to accumulate about a crazed gunman who had assassinated a Democratic congresswoman.

At 10:26 a.m., not even a half hour after the shooting had occurred —but a lifetime on Twitter— @crispix49 asked: "How long until the Democrats try blame the #teaparty for Giffordshooting?"

Indeed, in the absence of confirmed fact, the news reports often indulged in speculation on right-wing rhetoric, with the assumption that since Giffords was a Democrat, that the gunman was presumably a far-right Republican, and possibly an exponent of Tea Party activism.

In fact, Giffords was a member of the "Blue Dog" caucus of moderate Democrats, and called herself a "former Republican." In a moderately conservative area, she was well-aligned with her constituents on most issues. Some of her policies, like her support of gun rights, would have alienated or even angered the far-left.

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