Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords squeaked out a victory in the 2010 midterm elections. For her third race, the Blue Dog Democrat had faced a tea party candidate and veteran who had beaten a Republican state senator and had supported Arizona’s controversial immigration bill. Giffords’s seat had been in the “bull’s-eye,” as Sarah Palin put it, in the SarahPAC campaign target map.
Giffords resumed the Congress on Your Corner meetups, a concept created by Rahm Emmanuel that many had adopted since 2006. On January 8, she was greeting people at an event at a Tucson Safeway. Shortly after 10 a.m., a gunman shot Giffords and 18 others. The alleged shooter, then 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, had taken a 10-minute cab ride to the store.
Shot in the head
Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range. Six people, including a 9-year-old girl, died. Giffords survived — but not without help. Daniel Hernandez, an intern who had been working for her for only five days, rushed to her side when he heard gunfire, according to the Arizona Republic. “It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help,” he told the paper.
When he reached Giffords, he held her in his lap and applied pressure to the entry wound on her forehead. He tried to keep her from choking on her own blood. He held her hand as paramedics wheeled her to an ambulance and accompanied her to the University Medical Center.
Once there, he was told that she had died. When he learned she was actually alive, he said he was “ecstatic.”
Inspiration amid tragedy
So were many others across the country. Giffords’s survival and ongoing recovery have been an inspiring counterpoint to violence and contention. The bitter divide over Arizona’s immigration stance had led to boycotts, and the tragic shooting spree led one Arizona sheriff to call his state a “mecca for prejudice and bigotry.” Sheriff Clarence Dupnik’s comments enraged his peers, who criticized him for politicizing the shooting. Dupnik also laid out for Americans outside Arizona who Giffords was: a “nice human being … who works from dawn to dawn, basically, and she cares about what really happens in this country. She’s not about Democrats or Republicans; she’s not about politics. All she cares about is the United States of America. And today I want to tell you I hope that all Americans are saddened and as shocked as we are.”
When Giffords made a surprise appearance on the House floor in August for the debt-ceiling vote, an otherwise divided chamber broke into bipartisan applause. When she presented her astronaut husband with a medal during his retirement ceremony in October, Vice President Joe Biden praised the couple’s “sheer, sheer courage.”
The country continues to follow the progress of her recovery. In November, she spoke publicly for the first time when she appeared on ABC News, saying she needs to get better before she returns to Congress. She also released a memoir written with her husband, and on Thanksgiving, she helped serve a meal to military service members in her hometown. It was the first time she had met with constituents since the day she was shot.
She used only her left hand and spoke mostly one word at a time, both impediments a result of her injuries. But she did tell one service member: “Happy Thanksgiving; thank you for your service.”
A former reporter for the Associated Press and ABC News, Laura E. Davis writes about gay rights and the Supreme Court. She is one of the social media editors for Yahoo! News. Follow her on Twitter at @laura_ynews.