Washington, Jan 9 (DPA) A member of the US Congress and at least 17 others were shot in an attack at a shopping centre in Tucson, Arizona, Saturday, police said.
Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, 40, had been holding a meeting with local residents outside a grocery story when a gunman opened fire. Six people were confirmed dead, Pima County Police Chief Rich Kastigar said in a press conference.
Giffords was in critical condition following surgery, her doctor said.
The hospital, where Giffords was being treated, was treating a total of 10 people injured in the attack, five of whom were in critical condition. A 9-year-old child who had been brought to the hospital had died, the surgeon said.
Giffords had left surgery and would be transferred to an intensive care unit. "At the present time, I'm very optimistic about recovery," the doctor said.
A previous report from broadcaster NPR had said Giffords was among those killed. Several of the wounded or dead include staff members traveling with the congresswoman.
The motive for the attack remains unknown.
"This morning, in an unspeakable tragedy, a number of Americans were shot in Tuscon, Arizona, at a constituent meeting with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords," US President Barack Obama said in a written statement.
"We do not yet have all the answers," Obama said. "What we do know is that such a senseless and terrible act of violence has no place in a free society. I ask all Americans to join me and Michelle in keeping Representative Giffords, the victims of this tragedy, and their families in our prayers."
Obama said the federal government would offer its full resources to officials in Arizona investigating an attack by a gunman during an event with Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.
"It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country," Obama told reporters at the White House.
Among those killed was federal Judge John Roll, Obama confirmed.
Though a suspect was in custody, the motive of the attack was not yet known, Obama stressed.
John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, also condemned the attack.
"I am horrified by the senseless attack on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and members of her staff. An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve," he said in a statement.
"Acts and threats of violence against public officials have no place in our society. Our prayers are with Congresswoman Giffords, her staff, all who were injured, and their families. This is a sad day for our country."
A witness told CNN of a violent attack, with between 15 and 20 shots fired.
"It was like pots and pans falling around my ears. It was so loud," the man, who was at the event, told CNN.
Peter Michaels, news director with Arizona Public Media, told NPR that the gunman approached as Giffords was speaking to a couple and began firing from a little more than one metre's distance.
Initial reports also said the shooter had been taken into custody. He was described as being in his late teens or early 20s.
Giffords has been in office since 2007. It is not unusual for members of the US legislature to attend citizen's events in their home districts during weekend breaks from Congress with little or no special security.
Giffords is married to Mark Kelly, an astronaut with the US space programme NASA, who is scheduled to command the last scheduled flight of a space shuttle mission, set for April.