The US lawmaker shot in the head in an attack killing six in Tucson can now breathe unaided, doctors said Tuesday as the gunman's family broke their silence to say they were "so very sorry."
Surgeons gave an upbeat outlook for Representative Gabrielle Giffords' condition, as President Barack Obama prepared to travel to Arizona and a harrowing account emerged about the youngest victim in Saturday's shooting spree.
"She's holding her own," said Michael Lemole, the head neurosurgeon who operated on Giffords, adding that she was still responding to simple commands, a key sign for her recovery prospects.
"I'm very encouraged by the fact that she's done so well," he said.
Peter Rhee, head of trauma surgery at University Medical Center, said doctors had reduced the sedatives administered to the Democratic lawmaker, adding: "She will not die. She does not have that permission from me."
Giffords took a single bullet to the head in the shooting at a public event outside a grocery store in Tucson, which killed six including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl.
Rhee added that the resources of the entire US military had been offered to help care for the victims, including Giffords whose husband Mark Kelly is a US Navy captain and astronaut.
Two top military neurosurgeons, Geoffrey Ling and James Ecklund, flew to Tucson on Monday, and praised the level of care given to the 14 people injured in the shooting.
Loughner's family, besieged by media since the shooting, meanwhile made their first comment, saying they were "so very sorry" for the victims of their son's attack.
"There are no words that can possibly express how we feel. We wish that there were, so we could make you feel better. We don't understand why this happened," they said in a statement released to media.
"It may not make any difference, but we wish we could change the heinous events of Saturday. We care deeply about the victims and their families, and we are so very sorry for their loss."
Earlier Bill Hileman, whose wife Suzi took nine-year-old Christina Green to the Gifford event outside a Safeway store, said she was suffering harrowing flashbacks about the moment the gunman opened fire.
Although his wife remains under heavy sedation in hospital and cannot recount specifics, Hileman said she was clearly distressed.
"From time to time, in moments of discomfort things come out, she's recalling and remembering and having flashbacks of uncomfortable moments," he said.
"I hear in her semi-conscious ramblings, screaming out 'Christina Christina, let's get out of here, let's get out of here.'"
The schoolgirl was the youngest victim of the shootings, allegedly carried out by 22-year-old Loughner, who appeared in court in the state capital Phoenix on Monday on five charges including murder and attempted murder.
In Washington meanwhile an official urged US lawmakers to reconsider plans to carry firearms in response to the weekend assassination attempt against one of their colleagues.
"I don't think it's a good idea," the US Senate's sergeant-at-arms, Terrance Gainer, told ABC television. "I've been a policeman for 42 years, and I don't find introducing more guns to the situation helpful."
Obama is expected to travel to Tucson on Wednesday to attend a national memorial service, in what commentators say is fraught with political risk.
His task is particularly testing, given the political fury that spewed onto the airwaves almost as soon as Giffords was gunned down.
Liberal claims that a climate of conservative hate whipped up by the likes of Sarah Palin may have tipped accused gunman Loughner over the edge exposed the malign divisions of US politics.
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