One year on from the chilly January morning when 19 people were gunned down outside Tucson, Arizona, supermarket, a fragile figure, moving stiffly but determinedly, joined her constituents as bells tolled 19 times.
They began to ring at 10.11am, the exact moment of the shooting, and tolled for each of the six who died, among them a judge and a nine-year-old girl, and for the 13 survivors including Congress member Gabrielle Giffords herself.
Later, there was a service in the cathedral and a candle-lit vigil.
January 8 2010 marked a senseless act of slaughter. The first of dozens bullets fired hit Giffords, and among those who died was Gabe Zimmerman, her outreach director, who organised the local Congress on Your Corner event, where anyone and everyone was invited to turn up outside the Safeway supermarket for a casual chat.
Last May, a federal judge ruled that Jared Loughner, a 22-year-old high-school dropout, was mentally incompetent to stand trial for the shootings.
“Sad. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb,” Giffords said, recalling the appalling morning. “Tough as nails,” she said, agreeing with her recently retired astronaut husband Mark Kelly’s assessment of her character.
Like many of those injured, Giffords, taken unconscious to hospital, was not expected to survive. Now, although her speech is halting, she still has limited use of her right arm owing to damage to the left side of her brain and she becomes exhausted if allowed to push herself too far, her husband and aides are speculating on her return to full-time politics. She has until May to decide whether to put her name forward for the November elections and more than $800 000 has been raised for a potential campaign.
Survivors of the shooting, including one middle-aged man weeping at the memory of nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, shared their memories with the Fix Gun Checks campaign to tighten laws on illegal firearms. —