The Shooting of Politician Gabby Giffords
Nearly a decade ago, tragedy hit the mellow desert town of Tucson, Arizona.
A man with nothing to lose, no direction in life, and voices in his head gunned down one of the most promising politicians to come out of Arizona, US Congresswoman Gabrielle (“Gabby”) Giffords.
It’s ten years later. Gabby is 50 years old and still married to (newly elected Arizona State Senator) Mark Kelly.
A decade ago, on January 8, 2011, she was the main attraction at a meet-and-greet event in a strip mall.
Many people stepped up to become heroes that day.
January 8th, 2011
The Safeway grocery takes up a big chunk of the Casas Adobes shopping complex, along busy Ina Road. It was a typical sunny Arizona day, but unusually cold at 9:30 a.m.
The “Congress on Your Corner” event was a way to talk, shake hands or get a photo with a US Congresswoman. Giffords was accompanied by a half-dozen staff members, including her event director Gabe Zimmerman, longtime colleague Ron Barber and new intern Daniel Hernandez.
As the crowd swelled, a man wearing a gray hoodie and armed with a 9mm pistol came running forward. It was clear that Giffords was his target, and he shot her just after Judge John Roll greeted Gabby with a, “Hi.”
Jared Loughner (pronounced Lofner) fired point-blank, hitting Gabby in the head, before turning the gun on others. His pistol held a 33-round magazine.
Loughner failed to kill Gabby Giffords that day. But he did murder six other people and injure 13 before he was wrestled to the ground and disarmed.
Jared had recently been thrown out of Pima Community College (PCC). He’d attended Mountain View High School in Tucson but left before graduation, so PCC was a road back.
At 22, Jared was living in his parents’ house. He’d saved enough cash from jobs, including a stint at Tucson Festival of Books the spring before, to buy an over-the-counter 9mm Glock, the same weapon police often carry.
The day before, he drove his Chevy Nova to a Walmart, where he purchased plenty of ammo — enough rounds to fill more than one magazine. He also purchased a bag that could be worn like a backpack to hold the bullets.
No one else knew what Jared was up to, but there were plenty of signs he wasn’t doing well. PCC not only expelled him, but he was banned from campus. The college police showed up at his parents’ house to inform them their son wasn’t welcome.
When PCC kicked him out, it was long overdue. He’d begun bullying his teachers, and he made bizarre statements both in class and out. He filmed and posted a video calling PCC his “genocide school” and saying they’d repressed his right to free speech.
After buying bullets, Jared headed home — only to be pulled over by an AZ Game and Fish officer. He was let off with a warning after running a red light.
When he got home and pulled into the driveway, his dad came out and the two began arguing. Jared grabbed his stuff, including the ammo bag, and hoofed it to a nearby wash where he spent a cold night.
The next day, he phoned for a cab to pick him up. It was 9:40 when Jared gave the driver his destination: the Safeway store at Casas Adobes.
When the cab pulled up to Safeway, Jared went inside to get change for the cab driver, then paid his fare. Around this time, 9-year old Christina Taylor-Green was being quizzed by her friend Suzi Hileman, “What will you ask the Congresswoman?”
Victims and heroes
Loughner approached the event registration table. He asked Gifford’s staffer Alex Villec, “Is Giffords here?”
He walked directly to Gabby Giffords, raised the Glock, and shot her in the head.
District Judge John Roll had decided to attend the event only an hour earlier, after returning from church. Moments after the first gunshot, Loughner shot Roll. The judge was shot in the back as he got between the gunman and Ron Barber. He died before help arrived.
Bullets also hit 9-year old girl Christina Taylor-Green, the 3rd grader who came with a her family friend, Suzi, who tried to shield the little girl.
Christina died at the scene.
Two more staffers had been helping set up moments earlier. Pam Simon was the Outreach Coordinator and she helped her boss, Gabe Zimmerman, with folding chairs and tables.
Zimmerman, Gifford’s Community Outreach Director, was the only staff member killed. He was a social work graduate deeply committed to helping others. Gabe was engaged to be married the following year.
Ron Barber, 65, and Simon, 63, were shot and injured. Barber would recover, despite taking a bullet in the cheek and the leg. He would go on to finish out Gabby’s Congressional term in DC.
The other people who died that day included Dorothy Morris, 76, Dorwan Stoddard, 76, and Phyllis Schneck, 79. Schneck, who had only moved to Tucson seven years before, wasn’t particularly political.
Immediately after Gabby was gunned down, her intern, 20-year old Daniel Hernandez, rushed to her side. Daniel, who had a reputation as always calm in a crisis, relied on nurse assistant’s training from high school to act.
He got her up off the ground and stemmed the flow of blood from her head, recalling that victims could die by choking on blood. Safeway employees arrived with smocks to help stop the bleeding and he wrapped what was described as a “towel or jacket” around Gabby’s head.
Daniel Hernandez stayed with Gabby as the gurney arrived, walked with her to the ambulance, stayed in the ambulance, and held her hand as they wheeled her into the University of Arizona Hospital. He is credited with saving her life.
Dorwan Stoddard was a 76-year old man who was attending the event with his wife. When the shooting began, he immediately placed himself between Loughner and his wife, Mavanell, who was shot but survived.
George Morris, a retired Marine, also protected his wife, Dorothy. He was shot twice but lived. His wife didn’t make it.
‘Get the gun’
Two men, Salzgeber and Badger, and a woman named Maisch sprung into action — undoubtably saving other lives.
Salzgeber noticed the Loughner’s gun was locked open and empty. He lunged without thinking and hit Jared while nearly running into Badger, who was also trying to get the gun. Badger quickly grabbed Loughner’s wrist.
Loughner didn’t release the gun, but was down on his right side and struggling to reload. Then the Glock hit the pavement, and someone yelled, “Get the gun.”
Maisch quickly grabbed for the gun — at the same time, she could see Loughner reaching into his pocket for another magazine. She wrestled with him for the extra magazine, but Jared wouldn’t let go. Finally, he dropped it, and Maisch dove in and whisked it off the concrete.
The three of them held him down, knees into Jared’s neck, just as Joseph Zamudio came running from the Walgreens, next door.
‘Good guy with a gun’
Joseph Zamudio was standing in the check-out line at Walgreens next door when he heard gunfire. He was carrying his weapon. The 24-year-old clicked the safety of his handgun to “off” and ran outside. He saw a man with his face turned away holding a gun in the air, cursing and shouting, “I’ll kill you.”
Zamudio noticed an important detail. The man’s gun was unloaded. So instead of opening fire, he pushed the guy against the wall and disarmed him.
He is grateful he saw the gun was empty because the man he had against the bricks wasn’t Loughner. He heard voices: “That’s not the guy!” and saw Loughner being held to the ground. Zamudio helped keep Loughner there until the police arrived.
He has been called the “good guy with a gun” who arrived just in time, putting his firearm training to good use.
Gabby Giffords recovered from her injuries over the course of several years. The bullet went through her brain but quick action by her staffer and excellent medical care saved her life. She spearheaded the Giffords Law Center to shape sensible gun control legislation. Giffords uses her skills and experience to champion sound gun control legislation in all 50 legislatures and through the legal system.
Near Davidson Canyon, south and west of Tucson is a path called the Gabe Zimmerman trailhead. It lies just off I-10 and takes hikers into Davidson Canyon and Cienaga Creek Natural Preserve. The trail snakes up and out of the canyon to open country, after winding under a few interesting train trestles.
Gabe Zimmerman’s parents created this memorial to their son, who loved hiking.
Christina’s parents channeled their grief into a park in north Tucson (Pima County) that offers bicyclists and walkers a place to enjoy the desert. Canada del Oro Christina Taylor-Green Park provides benches, restrooms, and art, as well as a paved trail for bicyclists.
Daniel Hernandez is an elected representative for the State of Arizona. In 2016 he defeated the Republican challenger for a seat in the Arizona House of Representatives. He is one of the few openly gay legislators in Arizona and is co-founder of the Arizona LGBTQ Caucus.
Jared Lee Loughner is serving seven consecutive life sentences plus 140 years. He’s been forcibly medicated and, according to authorities, has expressed remorse for his crimes. He is incarcerated at a prison that deals with specialized health issues in Rochester, Minnesota.