Gabrielle Giffords: Poignant meetings mark final days in office

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords greets Arizona rancher Gary ThrasherA day after announcing her intention to resign from Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) on Monday completed the "Congress on Your Corner" event that was cut short more than a year ago when a gunman opened fire on her and her constituents in a Tucson parking lot. She and a dozen others were injured in the attack; six people were killed.

The congresswoman, who was shot in the head and has been struggling to recuperate, announced in a video posted online Sunday that she planned to resign this week to focus on her recovery, making Monday's gathering all the more poignant.

Among those who met with Giffords was Pat Maisch, who wrestled a gun magazine from the shooter and was hailed as a hero.

"I thanked her for her service, wished her well, and she just looked beautiful," Maisch told the Arizona Star.

Maisch, who was not injured in the shooting, said she was touched that Giffords returned to finish the meeting at the Safeway store, and was sad to see her leave public office.

"I've always said I would love for her to continue to be my congresswoman, but I want her to do what's best for her," Maisch said. "She's got to take care of herself."

On Monday, Gifford’s Facebook and Twitter feeds showed images of her meeting with survivors and others in her hometown of Tucson, the heart of her 8th Congressional District.

Giffords appeared holding the hand of Suzi Hileman, who brought 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green to meet the congresswoman outside the supermarket that fateful day. Christina was among those slain in the shooting. Hileman was shot three times.

In another picture, Giffords is shown embracing her former intern, Daniel Hernandez, who helped save her life by stanching her bleeding until paramedics arrived.

Giffords smiled and shook hands during the event, once again wearing the glasses she has sported during her recovery (but which she did not wear in the video released Sunday).

As reported in a tweet, Arizona rancher Gary Thrasher said after meeting with Giffords on Monday: "She had true grit then & she has true grit now."

Giffords has said she plans to travel to Washington to attend President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday.

There, Giffords plans to sit between Reps. Jeff Flake, a Republican, and Raul Grijalva, a Democrat, according to a statement released by her office to The Times on Monday.

At last year’s State of the Union speech, held shortly after Giffords was shot and wounded, Flake and Grijalva flanked an empty seat reserved for her.

Giffords has invited Brian Kolfage to attend as her guest. Kolfage is a triple amputee who was injured during a mortar attack in Iraq in 2004 and serves on the congresswoman’s Veterans Advisory Council.

Obama has also invited Giffords’ husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, to attend the address, at which he will sit with the first lady, according to Monday's statement.

Jared Lee Loughner was later charged in connection with the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting outside the Safeway. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and remains in federal custody as officials attempt to restore his competency to stand trial.

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-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords greets Arizona rancher Gary Thrasher during a "Congress on Your Corner" constituent event in Tucson on Monday. Credit: Twitter

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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