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Giffords Improves As Shooting Probe Continues

Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords could be released to a rehabilitation facility soon.

"It could be a matter of days to weeks," says Dr. Michael Lemole, a neurosurgeon at University Medical Center in Tucson. "It's a matter of getting all that information from our own therapists, when they think she's ready to move forward with that."

Giffords' condition was upgraded from critical to serious Sunday, primarily because she was taken off a ventilator over the weekend and is breathing on her own.

Doctors performed two surgeries Saturday -- a tracheotomy to replace the breathing tube in her mouth with one in her neck, and a more complicated surgery on her right eye.

"She had bilateral orbital roof fractures," Lemole said. "That's basically fractures in the roof of the eye socket."

Lemole says the damage on her left side doesn't need to be repaired, but on the right side surgeons had to remove bone fragments to relieve pressure on her eye.

Doctors say within a few hours of the surgery, Giffords was back to opening her eyes periodically and following simple commands. They say she has not yet tried to speak, though.

"The tracheostomy that we have in place now does not allow her to get air past her vocal chords, so she cannot vocalize," says Dr. Randall Friese, associate medical director at University Medical Center. "She certainly could mouth words or something like that when she's ready to do that."

At Monday's hospital briefing, doctors were asked to what extent Giffords is able to move on her right and left sides, but they declined to answer.

"The family really doesn't want to go into that detail at this time," Lemole said.

Still, doctors say Giffords' recovery is still going well, considering her injuries. Two other shooting victims remain in the hospital in good condition.

Meanwhile, the investigation continues into what motivated a gunman to shoot 19 people -- killing six of them -- on Jan. 8. Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old accused shooter, is in federal custody and faces charges that include killing federal employees and trying to assassinate a member of Congress.

The Washington Post is reporting that the federal trial will be moved to San Diego because of pretrial publicity. But in a written statement, the Justice Department says it plans to bring the case in Arizona and will oppose any change-of-venue motions.

Pima County Sheriff's spokesman Jason Ogan says federal agents have control of the evidence now. But there is still the matter of state charges that could be filed against Loughner.

"We have meetings with the county attorney here later this week to discuss what charges are we going to pursue," Ogan says. "Can we mirror the federal charges? Is it going to be a double jeopardy kind of deal? Or do we have to, you know, scale back a little?"

At the Safeway where the shooting happened on Jan. 8, the store reopened this weekend. Shoppers gingerly pushed carts past a memorial near the front door. Amid the piles of flowers, lit candles and stuffed animals is a sign that reads "United against hate and violence."

Peg Anderson lives just about a quarter-mile away and stopped by to take a picture.

Thinking back to a week ago, she remembers all the talk -- prompted by Sheriff Clarence Dupnik -- that a nasty political environment might have led to the shooting. At that time, Anderson agreed, but now she's not sure. She wonders how anyone could know what was happening in the gunman's mind.

"I think it's dangerous to attribute it to anything that has been said or happened," Anderson says. "But I can understand why there's that reaction; I had that reaction myself. And I do think this has made everybody sit up and pay attention to how they treat each other."

As for Sheriff Dupnik, it's hard to tell whether his thinking has changed. He has pretty much stopped making media appearances. Ogan says he can't speak to why that is, but the sheriff may be available to talk with reporters later this week.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.