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Rep. Giffords' Next Major Test: Speaking

The hands of Mark Kelly and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
The hands of Mark Kelly and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The important step taken yesterday in the treatment of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- freeing her from a ventilator so that she's now breathing completely on her own -- will allow doctors to judge something that should tell them a lot more about how well she's doing.

As The Arizona Republic writes: "doctors had said they should be able to evaluate her ability to speak once the breathing tube was out."

The Arizona Democrat, and 19 other people, were shot on Jan. 8 at an outdoor event she was holding in Tucson. Six people died. Giffords, who was shot in the head, remains in critical condition. But doctors have said she is doing remarkably well. ( Update at 9:45 p.m. ET:Her condition has now been upgraded to "serious.")

In recent days she has been opening her eyes and responding to simple requests. Giffords' doctors have said that being able to do those things are encouraging signs for someone recovering from a serious brain injury. Speaking will be another major test.

Meanwhile, more is being learned about the 22-year-old Tucson man arrested at the scene and charged in the rampage. Jared Loughner, the Los Angeles Times reports, apparently "slowly spiraled into madness." In another profile of Loughner, the Republic comes to much the same conclusion.

And authorities have released this video that Loughner made in which he can be heard rambling on about Pima Community College, where he had attended classes before being expelled for being disruptive:

(As we said Friday, The Two-Way isn't planning to post on tomorrow's holiday -- Martin Luther King Jr. Day -- but we will pop in for updates on stories of major interest or for breaking news.)

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Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.