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Gabrielle Giffords Shooting: A Fatal Chain of Events Unfolds

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Gabrielle Giffords shooting: A fatal chain of events unfolds
It begins with a phone call.

Hi, this is Gabby Giffords . . .

Supporters will gather for a quick photo. A few worried voters have tough questions to ask.


Come to Safeway tomorrow . . .

A friend plans to drop by to offer a thank-you. A photographer will pack his cameras.

Tell me how we can make government work . . .

Friday turns into Saturday.

In the darkness, at the north edge of Tucson, a young man checks into the Motel 6 by the interstate.

A set of lives are on a collision course, hurtling toward morning.

Sometime after 2 p.m. Friday, Jan. 7, the phone rang at Bill Badger’s house in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills.

Badger had just finished a few chores in the yard. His day had been full so far: a two-mile walk through Pontatoc Wash with Kirra, a 4-year-old husky-Lab mix. A drive in the spotless 1973 Jaguar XKE. He put the solar cover on the swimming pool and went inside.

The phone call was a recorded invitation from Gabrielle Giffords, the Democrat who represented the foothills in Congress. Come meet me tomorrow at the Safeway down on Ina Road, the voice on the phone said. Giffords wanted to talk to the people in her hometown.

 Looking back a month later |  A collision course

Badger, 74, had never met Giffords, but he knew she was a military spouse, married to a Navy pilot turned astronaut. She understood veterans like Badger, a retired Army colonel. He could ask her about the higher premiums on the medical plan he used.

The Safeway event would fit into Badger’s plan the next day to see a friend at a car show at a mall a little farther up the hills. He put it on his schedule.

Later that afternoon, the phone rang at James Palka’s house off Orange Grove Road.

The phone call brought back good memories for Palka, a 63-year-old freelance photographer who met Gabrielle Giffords at an Independence Day celebration in Oro Valley more than three years earlier. He had supported her election and decided to photograph her at the July 4 event. The pictures had turned out nice, and he sent her copies, no charge.

After listening to the invitation to Giffords’ event, Palka knew almost instantly he would attend. I’d like to see her again, he thought. She’s one of the good ones. He would take his cameras, get photos of her mingling with the crowd.

Around 5:30 p.m., the phone rang at Roger and Faith Salzgeber’s house in a secluded foothills neighborhood.

The automated call was as good as a personal invitation for Roger, a retired nursery wholesaler and a guy who had developed a taste for politics. He tells people he’s “a Democrat with a capital L,” a liberal ranter and raver.

Giffords was more conservative, but she won him over with her support for the health-care overhaul – for Salzgeber, 61, it was a case of political love at first vote.

He signed up as a volunteer in her 2010 re-election campaign the day after someone vandalized her district office, an attack many suspected was tied to her vote on the health-care bill. He had not seen her since the week after the election.

“Faith, let’s go down there,” he said. “It’ll be a social call.”

Toward the end of the afternoon, the phone rang at Susan Hileman’s house, an angular structure at the edge of Tucson National Golf Club.

Hileman did not think of politics, not exactly. To her ear, the invitation sounded more casual, friendly: Hi, this is Gabby Giffords. Come to Safeway tomorrow and tell me how we can make government work better for you.

Government. She knew who was interested in the government: her friend Christina-Taylor Green. At 9, the little girl was already an elected official, even if the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary was a little less official than the U.S. House of Representatives. Surely, she would get a kick out of meeting Giffords in person.

Hileman, 58, hung up the phone and called the Greens, who live around a couple of winding corners in the comfortable neighborhood. She invited Roxanna Green and both her kids, but Roxanna and her young son were busy. Well then, she asked, was Christina-Taylor up for a Saturday morning outing with Susan? Was she ever! They could make it a girls’ day out.

The date was set.



Friday afternoon turned cool as the sun slid down over Tucson, the chill desert air still beholden to January. It’s too cold to ride bikes, Raoul Erickson fretted, but his friend disagreed and in the end, she won and the two suited up.

Gabrielle Giffords did that a lot, talking her way to what she wanted. The year before, she wanted a third term in Congress.

Giffords was a former Republican and she could never be described as a liberal. But she was a Democrat in a year when a “D” by your name – and especially “D-Ariz.” – was a liability. To win, she would have to muscle her way through the crowd of incumbent-toppling contenders.

She was up for the campaign, but the overt hostility bothered her. The threats, the gun at a town-hall meeting, the shattered window at her Tucson office. The crosshairs over her district on a campaign map distributed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

She kept talking, and she got her way. After the election, the vote-counting took a week, but she returned to Washington the winner.

Even then, the violent imagery tugged at her. She confided her fears in Mark Kelly, her husband. “I’m somewhat concerned that at some point, someone’s going to shoot me,” she told him.

On Jan. 5, Giffords stood in the House chamber on Capitol Hill, repeating the oath of an office she had fought so hard to keep. When the Republicans staged an opening-week reading of the Constitution aloud on the House floor, Giffords joined in and proudly read the First Amendment.

Now she was home, and she wanted to ride her bicycle.

Erickson had picked her up at the airport and had given her a lift to her central Tucson condominium. She and Raoul had been friends since the 1990s and, with him, the politics were set aside.

The next day, she would be at one of her favorite events, “Congress on Your Corner.” If all was going as planned, her staff by then had sent out a press release and an e-mail newsletter, and had triggered hundreds of automated phone calls to people in the area.

Before Giffords and Erickson finished their 10 miles, she snapped their picture with her cellphone camera, a reminder of a lovely Tucson evening.



The Loughner family home. (Pat Shannahan/AZ Republic)


Night cloaked Soledad Avenue on Tucson’s northwest side. No street lamps illuminated the neighborhood where Jared Loughner lived with his parents.

This is dark-sky country, where light-pollution ordinances favor astronomical observatories on the peaks.

As midnight passed, the streets grew quieter. The lights blinked out in windows.

But on Friday night, Jared Loughner wasn’t home. While the suburbs slept, he was on the move.

At 11:35, he eased a faded Chevy Nova into the parking lot at the all-night Walgreens drugstore along Ina Road. Traffic had thinned as midnight approached.

Most nearby businesses had long closed, their windows dark. The big-box sporting-goods store. The big-box office-supply store. The chain pizza restaurant. The greasy smell of cooking burgers and fries from the 24-hour fast-food joint across the street mingled with the exhaust of passing cars.

Loughner climbed out of the Nova and entered the drugstore. He headed for the photo counter, passing a cashier who chirps a cheery “hello” to late-night customers. Loughner left a roll of 35mm film, with the store’s promise that prints would be ready in about an hour.

He fired up the Nova and steered back into traffic, heading off on a circular path through the night.

About an hour later, he stopped at a Circle K convenience store off Ina Road near Interstate 10. The store buzzed, even at the late hour, drawing motorists from the freeway and night owls seeking soda, cigarettes and beer.

Loughner then guided the car across the street to a Motel 6.

The motel sits off the main drag, alongside the railroad tracks that follow Interstate 10. A room costs $43.71 a night plus tax. Internet service is $3, cash only.

In Room 411, the king-sized bed wore a spread festooned with seashells, flamingos, cityscapes and saguaros.

The room looked out on Miss Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant, and logos for Jack in the Box and the Waffle House hoisted on signs easily visible from the freeway. A rhythmic rumble of diesel rigs on I-10 provided the bass line to a soundtrack of traffic and the braying horns of the freight trains.

Loughner wouldn’t stay in the room for long. He was on the move, rambling up and down Ina Road, racing the dawn.

At 2 a.m., Loughner dialed Bryce Tierney, a friend he hadn’t seen since March. The two started hanging out their freshman year in high school. They shared a taste for the same music and for weed. In 2007, they were cited for possession of drug paraphernalia when a sheriff’s deputy found pipes, rolling papers and marijuana in Tierney’s van.

Both later went through a court-run drug-diversion program and had the charges wiped from their records.

Tierney didn’t answer the phone, so Loughner left a message.

“Hey, it’s Jared,” he said. “We’ve had some good times. Peace out.”

About 20 minutes later, Loughner returned to Walgreens and retrieved his photos. In some of them, he was wearing a thong.

Another 90 minutes passed. He logged onto his My Space page and posted a message: “Goodbye,” it said. And then, “Dear friends . . . please don’t be mad at me.”

A little after 6, with dawn still more than an hour away, Loughner stopped at a Walmart near the Foothills Mall, about 4 miles from the motel and deeper into the suburban neighborhoods. A sign at the sporting-goods counter informed customers that no one would be on duty until 7 a.m.

Loughner doubled back toward the freeway, stopping at another Circle K not far from his house. Then a little after 7, he drove back to the Walmart and asked to purchase ammunition. The clerk disappeared in the back for a moment. During the delay, Loughner vanished from the store.

Less than 30 minutes later, he arrived at another Walmart, in a newer power center west of I-10 on Cortaro Road in Marana. The shopping center was still quiet at that hour. A few people followed the smell of brewing coffee to a Starbucks. Other stores and eateries remained dark as the sun peeked over the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Inside the store, Loughner bought ammunition and a black diaper bag, the kind with straps to be worn like a backpack.

He already had a gun.

It was a 9mm Glock, the kind police carry. Small, light, reliable. He had bought it over the counter at a sporting-goods store a few months back.

Loughner turned onto Cortaro and headed east, under the freeway. An Arizona Game and Fish Department officer was at the same intersection and saw an old Nova roll through the red light about 7:30.

The infraction had nothing to do with game or fish, but the department’s officers can make traffic stops when public safety is at risk. Running a red light was enough. The officer pulled the Nova to the shoulder.

The 22-year-old driver handed over his license and registration, and the officer ran the records. There were no warrants, no red flags. The officer gave the driver a warning. Loughner went on his way.

Eventually, he returned to Soledad Avenue and the home he shared with his parents. The slump-block house with a flat roof was almost hidden behind the scraggly mesquite tree and cholla cactus in the neatly kept front yard. The driveway was the usual spot for the Nova and a battered white pickup truck.

Loughner started to remove the items he bought, when his father emerged from the house. The two started arguing, and Loughner pulled his black bag from the car. His father would later say he could tell something was wrong.

Loughner muttered and then fled, crossing the street to the north until he reached a dry wash that runs through the neighborhood. His father tried to chase him down, on foot and then in a car, but couldn’t catch him. Loughner made his way down the wash and disappeared into the desert.



Loughner stayed at this Motel 6. (Nick Oza/AZ Republic)


Bill Badger arose early Saturday morning and took Kirra out for their morning stroll. The retired Army colonel and his wife, Sallie, adopted the animal more than three years ago when their son found her at a pound.

The dog was tough. She had come into the pound with three gunshot wounds, but she survived. A home in the foothills and a 2½ mile romp through the wash were her daily rewards.

Back home, Badger ate a bowl of Oat Cluster Cheerios Crunch. The cereal was supposed to be good for his heart, and it didn’t taste half bad. He told Sallie he was headed to La Encantada shopping center a couple of miles up Skyline Drive. His friend was displaying a 2011 Corvette at a car show.

Badger would take the family Toyota and not the Jag.

“Just tell me when you’ll be back,” Sallie said. “I want the car later.”

Badger stayed at the car show for about 10 minutes, then turned the Toyota back down the hill toward the Safeway.

Roger and Faith Salzgeber arose around 6 a.m., with a full day ahead of them. The University of Arizona was playing Stanford at 4 p.m. A season-ticket holder for 28 years, Salzgeber had more than just a passing interest in Wildcats basketball.

The couple had coffee and breakfast, then leashed up Lola and Ripley, their Australian shepherds, for what turned into a long Saturday walk.

Roger had met many of the neighbors after canvassing the area for Giffords, so he waved often as they turned down one street and up another. The roadways rise and fall through shallow arroyos. Around the houses, thickets of cactus and paloverde trees envelop the homes.

With yard work yet to be done, Roger and Faith left home around 9:10 and turned into the Safeway parking lot almost half an hour before the event was to begin.

Susan Hileman pulled into the Greens’ driveway about 9:45 a.m. She wore jeans, a cardigan, a long-sleeve white shirt and cowboy boots. Christina-Taylor bounded out of the house, oblivious to the morning chill. Her mother pointed her back inside for a sweatshirt.

Roxanna Green chatted with Hileman while they waited.

“Does she really want to go with me?” Hileman asked. “Is there something else she would rather be doing?”

She and Christina-Taylor had become fast friends, working in the garden, going on outings. Sometimes they played pickup sticks. The little girl would distract Hileman and then move game pieces. They both knew about the subterfuge, and they both ignored it.

Roxanna smiled. “Anyplace she goes with you, she’s happy.”

James Palka packed his cameras. Not everyone shows up at these events on time, he thought. She’s going to be there for an hour and a half. The best pictures will show her interacting with people and people standing in line chatting with each other.

There was no point in getting there early. Palka decided to wait. He would time his arrival for 10:30.

Jared Loughner waited at a Circle K on Cortaro Farms Road as the sun rose higher in the sky. He was on foot now.

He had left the Nova at the house, where his father had confronted him. He ran into the desert and hiked north and a little east. Along the way, he dropped the black bag, ammunition rattling inside.

At the Circle K, he called a cab. The car rolled up at 9:40, and Loughner got inside.

The route from the convenience store to the Safeway passes Pima Community College’s northwest campus, backdrop for Loughner’s recent past.

For four years, he had taken an array of classes. Algebra, business management, yoga.

In 2007, he even met his congresswoman there.

She was holding an event on campus. He submitted a question for her on a card, a question odd enough that a friend of his would remember it years later: “What is government if words have no meaning?” Giffords struggled to offer an answer. Still, her office later sent him a form letter, thanking him for attending. He kept it at home, in a locked box.

Later, his behavior grew more erratic. His outbursts scared some instructors enough that they began reporting incidents to campus police. Five times police went to classrooms because of him. In February 2010, he disrupted a class after another student read a poem about abortion. In May, he turned hostile when a Pilates teacher told him he would receive a B.

Loughner railed about ideas of free speech, about the meaning of words, then of numbers.

In June, a math teacher called campus police. She had used the number six in class. No, Loughner had insisted, bullying her. That number isn’t called six. Call it 18.

Soon, he was waging his own private war with the school. He recorded a video tour of campus and posted it online.

“This is my genocide school,” Loughner said after he received only partial credit on a late assignment. “And I haven’t forgotten the teacher that gave me a B for freedom of speech.”

After administrators saw the videos, and Loughner berated a biology teacher over an assignment, the college decided it was time for him to go. He would be removed from school until he had a mental-health screening.

Campus police delivered a letter of suspension to his house in September, reading it aloud in his garage. Loughner listened in silence.

But all that was months ago. Loughner had never returned to school.

Now he rode in a taxi, east into the foothills. A crescent moon was rising over the mountains, a thumbnail in the blue sky.

The drive to the Safeway took only a few minutes. At 9:54, the cab pulled into the parking lot at Ina and Oracle.

The fare was $14.25. Loughner had a twenty, so he told the cab driver he wanted to get change in the store. The driver accompanied him inside.

A few minutes later, Loughner emerged. A line of people stood in a walkway between the grocery store and the adjacent Walgreens, waiting to meet the congresswoman. A man walked alongside the line, asking people to sign a sheet of paper.

Loughner walked toward the front of the line and approached a young man sitting at a folding table.

“Is Giffords here?” he asked.


The shadows of the Santa Catalina Mountains had nearly retreated, giving in as they did every morning to the rising sun, when John Roll, the chief federal judge for Arizona, rounded the last curve on Valley View Road and parked outside St. Thomas the Apostle parish church.

The skies were clear, the air was brisk, the sounds of the city quieted by the mesquite and paloverde that clothed the desert landscape. The view, for those who sought it, stretched out for miles to the Tucson Mountains and the Santa Ritas, even as the creosote and acacia hemmed off the outside world.


Looking back a month later |  A collision course

Roll, 63, attended Mass here every morning. On weekdays, it prepared him for one of the hardest jobs on any bench, presiding over a district where the caseload had become overwhelming, worsened by judicial vacancies. In a letter to 9th Circuit Court judges, he had called the load a tsunami.

On Saturdays, the Mass typically preceded the day’s chores, but today, Roll would mix business with pleasure, dropping in on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at one of her “Congress on Your Corner” events to say hello and talk about her efforts to help the judges.

On this Saturday, the reading was from the fifth chapter of 1 John:

“And we have this confidence in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

“And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, we know that what we have asked him for is ours.”

From the church’s hilly cloister, Sunrise Drive winds down out of the high foothills, curving gently, the sun providing encouragement from behind. Cyclists hug the edge of the road, slicing through traffic.

Sunrise turns into Skyline Drive. Apartments and businesses edge closer. Skyline turns into Ina Road, growing busier as it passes First Avenue and finally reaches Oracle Road. On the left is La Toscana Village shopping center – a Walgreens, some small shops, and the Safeway where the congresswoman would meet the neighbors.

Gabe Zimmerman was already unloading a pickup truck in front of the Safeway when Pam Simon pulled into the parking lot at 9 a.m. Zimmerman, Giffords’ community-outreach director, had brought folding tables and blue-cushioned folding chairs, the good ones from the district office.

Simon pulled a stanchion from the truck bed. The short stands with retracting ropes helped keep people neatly in line.

She struggled with it. It was heavy.

“OK,” she told Zimmerman with a laugh. “I’m doing chairs. You’re doing stanchions.”

Simon, 63, was an outreach coordinator in the district office. Technically, Zimmerman, 30, was her boss, but he wouldn’t let her say so. “Pam, we work in a partnership,” he would always say.

Together, they emptied the pickup, moving efficiently in the nippy shade of the building. Simon shivered. “I wish I’d brought some gloves,” she said.

Zimmerman had also forgotten his gloves. Simon decided to find some cheap mittens in the Walgreens. “Do you want a pair?” she asked Zimmerman. No, he said, he was fine.

When Simon emerged from the drugstore, hands now hidden inside mittens, Zimmerman had more help. Sara Hummel Rajca, Giffords’ constituent-services director and designated photographer, had arrived, as had Daniel Hernandez, the new intern, and Alex Villec, an intern who volunteered to help.

Zimmerman directed the setup. These events were practically his creation.

Giffords would greet constituents in a covered walkway on the north side of the Safeway entrance. Brick pillars, part of the architectural arches on the front of the building, helped create a sort of corridor. A folding table blocked the end closest to the glass Safeway doors. Visitors would enter from the Walgreens side and could stand or sit in a row of chairs.

An American flag and an Arizona flag provided a backdrop for photos. A round picnic table with benches, bolted to the concrete walkway, offered another place to sit and talk. The stanchions helped rope off the spaces between the pillars. Giffords liked to make sure she saw people in order as they arrived, so a line was vital.

A banner stretched between two poles read “Gabrielle Giffords, United States Congress,” with the seal of the House of Representatives. Zimmerman made sure an A-frame sign announcing the event was set up near the parking-lot entrance.

The interns laid out leaflets and issue papers on a second folding table. Sometimes the paperwork alone could answer people’s questions. The staff would jump in as needed. Everything would be free-form, no speeches.

Simon liked that aspect of the events. People would show up and say, “I was Gabby’s third-grade teacher.” Or someone would spot Simon, a retired schoolteacher herself, and say, “Do you remember me, Mrs. Simon? I was in your class in 1985.”

People started arriving for the event just after 9:30.

Simon sent Giffords a text. “It’s chilly out here. Be sure to dress warm.”

A few moments later, Giffords replied: “Too late. I’m on my way.”

Simon turned to Zimmerman. “We’re pretty much set up. I’m going to run in and get some hot cocoa for Sara and myself. Do you want anything?”

“No, I’m fine,” Zimmerman said. He was focused on the event. “But ask Daniel.” In the setup, she had almost forgotten the new intern.

Two more staffers arrived: Ron Barber, Giffords’ district director, and Mark Kimble, a communications aide. About a dozen people were already in line.

A couple of minutes before 10, the congresswoman pulled up in her green Toyota 4Runner. She preferred to drive herself.



The Walmart where police believe Loughner bought the ammunition he used. (Pat Shannahan/AZ Republic)


She parked and pulled out her iPad. At 9:58, her fingers tapped out a message: “My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later.”

Giffords walked briskly to the walkway. She wore a red jacket with red plastic beads around her neck and a short black skirt.

“Yea, you’re here!” Simon said. Giffords greeted the staffers, then turned to her first constituent.

Roger and Faith Salzgeber had been up for hours and wanted to see Giffords and be on their way. They turned into the parking lot at 9:30.

They signed in with the new intern who was working the line, and chatted with the staffers Roger already knew from his work on the campaign. He had worked with Sara Hummel Rajca on solar-energy issues, and talked with her when he put solar panels on the house.

Susan Hileman found a parking spot a little before 10, Christina-Taylor Green bubbling beside her. On the short drive from their neighborhood, Hileman had quizzed her young friend about Congress and the government. Add it up, she would say. How many senators? How many representatives? Don’t forget the president and vice president. And Christina-Taylor got it all right, so good with numbers in her head.

“Do you have your question?” Hileman asked. “Do you know what you’re going to say?”

Christina-Taylor didn’t know yet. She wanted to meet Giffords first.

Hileman gathered her things as she got out of the car. She was always forgetting things, leaving them behind. The young girl knew it was her job to check.

“Do you have the keys?” Christina-Taylor asked.

Hileman held up her hand, jingled the ring and flashed a grin at her friend.

Christina-Taylor left behind her pink sweatshirt, the one with the little peace sign on it. The sun was out. The two headed for the line in front of the store.

Bill Badger found open parking on the Walgreens side of the parking lot, though he noticed there were still not many cars in the lot. He looked at the walkway where the event had begun. He saw Giffords. He could see a young girl talking to a woman. About 10 feet from the line, an aide to Giffords stopped Badger and directed him to a sign-in sheet.

The line formed, ready for the event.

First up was Matthew Laos, a Giffords supporter who had come at the encouragement of Zimmerman. Laos wanted to chat about a piece of legislation and have a picture taken.

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard, an older couple who lived just a few blocks away off Oracle, were second and third. They had long wanted to meet Giffords and stopped by early, with plans to go to breakfast afterward.

The Salzgebers were fourth and fifth.

Hileman and Christina-Taylor were next, holding hands and laughing as they waited.

Others began to gather. Patricia Maisch had stopped to pick up a few items at Safeway and wanted to meet Giffords and tell her about how the federal stimulus package had made a difference for the heating-and-cooling business she and her husband run.

Steve Rayle waited outside while his girlfriend ducked into the store. He watched Giffords, near the doorway, talking to an older couple.

Zimmerman stopped to chat with Roger Salzgeber about the John Deere ball cap he was wearing.

Pam Simon talked with the Stoddards. Would they like a picture with the congresswoman? That would be nice, they agreed.

A young man in a hooded sweatshirt and baggy pants emerged from the Safeway and walked over to the table where Villec was checking people in.

“Is Giffords here?” the man asked.

Villec nodded and told the young man he needed to sign in and wait in line. Twenty, twenty-five minutes at most. The young man turned away from the table. Villec watched him walk off, wondering if he’d lost interest. He turned his attention back to the others in line.

Joseph Zamudio was standing at the counter in Walgreens, waiting for his debit card to clear, when he heard the sound.

He had stopped for a pack of cigarettes before heading to work at his mother’s art gallery. A quick stop. She would be waiting for him.

Then as he waited, he heard the first pop.

Zamudio, 24, knew about guns. He often carried his 9mm, had it with him that very moment. He knew what he was hearing.

Another pop. Then another.


Another series of pops.

Zamudio’s holster was at his side.


He left the cigarettes on the counter and raced out the door.



The Safeway where the mass shooting occurred. 

(Pat Shannahan/AZ Republic)


The events in front of the grocery unfolded so quickly, those who were there barely understood what was happening before it was over.

The sequence can be found only among shattered memories and the limited angles of surveillance cameras.

At 10:10 a.m., a gunman walked up to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, 40, and shot her in the head. She crumpled to the concrete.

Then the gunman turned to the line of people and squeezed the trigger 31 more times.

U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63, was shot after Giffords, possibly as he tried to push Ron Barber out of danger.

Roll fell to the ground.

He died at the scene.

Dorwan Stoddard, 76, who was talking with Giffords when the shooting began, tried to protect his wife, Mavanell Stoddard, 75. She was shot, but survived.

He died at the scene.

George Morris, 76, a retired Marine who had driven down from Oro Valley, tried to protect his wife, Dorothy, 76. He was shot twice but survived.

She died at the scene.

Phyllis Schneck, 79, who retired to Tucson with her husband seven years ago, stopped to see Giffords even though, according to her daughter, she wasn’t very political. She was shot.

She died at the scene.

Gabe Zimmerman, 30, a social worker and Giffords’ community-outreach director, was engaged to be married. He was shot.

He died at the scene.

Christina-Taylor Green, 9, who wanted to become the first female to play major-league baseball, was shot through the chest and died.

Susan Hileman, 58, tried to shield Christina-Taylor with her own body. Hileman was shot three times.

Ron Barber, 65, Giffords’ district-office director, was shot and suffered wounds in the cheek and the leg.

Pam Simon, 63, who worked part time for Giffords as a community-outreach coordinator, was shot in the wrist and in the chest. The second bullet pierced her body and lodged in her hip.

Bill Badger, 74, the retired Army colonel, was injured by a gunshot that grazed his head.

Kenneth Dorushka, 63, was shot in the arm as he pushed his wife, Carol, away.

Eric Fuller, 63, was shot and wounded in the knee and in his back.

Randy Gardner, 60, was shot in his foot.

Mary Reed, 52, had gone to the store with her daughter, Emma McMahon, who worked for Giffords the previous summer as a page. Reed was shot three times as she shielded her daughter from the gunfire.

James Tucker, 58, described by his neighbors as a “gentle bear,” was shot.

Kenneth Veeder, 75, a retired Vietnam veteran, was shot in the leg.

The people in line were gathered in an enclosed corridor, just a few feet wide along the front of the store. They were flanked by a brick wall on one side and large concrete pillars on the other. Tables, temporary barriers and a row of folding chairs hemmed them in. There was little room to run.



The Safeway where the mass shooting occurred. 

(Pat Shannahan/AZ Republic)


Alex Villec saw the gunman raise his arm.

“Get down! Get down!” Villec yelled.

Bill Badger heard the noise and jerked his head up. Was someone trying to harass Giffords with firecrackers? Then he saw the gunman, firing into the line of people. Badger dropped to the concrete and seconds later, felt a burning sensation on the back of his head.

Roger Salzgeber had the same thought: Firecrackers? Here? When he realized what was happening, he hit the ground toward the back of the line. His wife, Faith, dived into the row of chairs, trying to pull one over her.

Patricia Maisch knew she had two options: Run and risk becoming a target or hit the ground and risk being shot as the gunman neared. She hit the ground. The woman next to her was shot, and Maisch waited, wondering what it would feel like.

Then the shooting stopped. The gunman had run out of ammunition.

Salzgeber saw the gun, locked open, empty. He jumped up and, without thinking, hit the gunman. He almost collided with Badger, who was struggling to reach the gun. Badger grabbed the shooter’s left wrist and pulled back.

The gunman went down on his right side, still holding the gun, fighting to reload. The gun hit the concrete and fell from the shooter’s grasp.

“Get the gun!” someone yelled.

Maisch was on the left side and couldn’t reach the gun, but she saw the shooter reach into his pocket for ammunition. If he could reload, he could start shooting again.

Maisch grabbed for the extra magazine. The shooter held on to it, then abruptly dropped it. Maisch lunged and scooped it up.

Between them, Badger and Salzgeber held the gunman down. Salzgeber pushed his knee into the shooter’s neck and held his left arm back, pulling it. Hard.

Joseph Zamudio had reached the scene. A man had picked up the gun, and Zamudio moved toward him and grabbed the man’s wrist.

“No, no, that’s the wrong guy,” someone else said.

Zamudio looked down and saw the two men holding the gunman. Maisch was sitting on his legs, clutching the second magazine. Zamudio, a former football player, dropped and took her place. Zamudio was aware of his handgun, which he had not drawn.

I just want to shoot him, he thought.

Steve Rayle edged around the corner of a pillar. He saw the gunman still squirming. A big man, at 6 feet 5 and 230 pounds, Rayle crouched over the shooter and pushed his knees into the man’s kidneys.

In the rush and panic, people were yelling, but no one would remember later who said what.

“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you!” someone screamed at the shooter.

“I can’t believe you!” a woman cried. “How could you do this?”

Salzgeber felt a rush of anger as he pushed harder on the shooter. The gunman was pinned.

“You’re hurting my arm,” the man said, as Salzgeber pulled.

Bill Badger finally caught his attention. “Don’t you think he needs to breathe?” Badger asked.

The two men were eye to eye. Badger’s blood trickled over Salzgeber’s coat.

Zamudio tried to dial 911 on his cellphone, but the emergency system was already overloaded with calls.

Rayle, a former emergency-room physician, rose from his knees and surveyed the scene.

A line of wounded people stretched back from where the shooter was pinned.

Several people, he could see, were already dead.

At the front of the line, the congresswoman moved on the ground. Near her, a young girl lay motionless.

With no one directing them, no one telling them what to do, the uninjured rose to their feet and began tending to the wounded. They strained to hear the sound of sirens. They needed help, a lot of help.

But in the air, only silence. They were alone.

And everywhere, there was blood.


Stuart Rodeffer climbed out of his pickup at Mountain View High School in Marana and checked in with the crew of the fire engine that had rolled out for the call. Nothing too much to worry about; another situation under control.

That was Saturday so far for Rodeffer, a battalion chief for the Northwest Fire/Rescue District in Tucson: everything under control. He had clocked in at 7 that morning, reveling in the small weekend luxury of wearing a T-shirt to work. He would work a 24-hour shift, then catch four days off.


Rodeffer celebrated his 46th birthday on Friday with a punishing kettlebell workout and dinner at Red Lobster with his parents and Maggie, his wife of 18 years.

Saturday, Jan. 8, was slow so far. A patient with chest pains; a minor bike accident, the cyclist skinned up and bruised. Rodeffer dispatched himself to both calls and handled them. Under control.

At 10:14, a call came across the radio: first-alarm medical. Severe emergency. An address about 7 miles to the south and east. Ina and Oracle roads.

Rodeffer jumped in his truck and headed there.

As Rodeffer sped through the sparse Saturday-morning traffic, radio chatter turned frantic. More units dispatched. Injuries. Multiple injuries.

He called Lane Spalla, another battalion chief.

“Lane, this is sounding like a deal,” Rodeffer said. “What are you thinking?”

Spalla was already there – a shopping center with a Safeway. Rodeffer pulled up, but everyone was being held back. Police were still securing the scene.

Finally, medical responders were cleared. Rodeffer parked his truck on the west edge of the lot and walked quickly toward the store. A banner sharpened into focus: Gabrielle Giffords, in red letters, United States Congress in blue.

The banner didn’t register in Rodeffer’s mind. Instead, he saw only the scene in front of it.

In his years as a Marine, in a decade of emergency service, he had never seen this.

Bystanders were swarming the firetrucks, tugging desperately at firefighters, reaching for medical equipment. “People are dying here!” someone cried. “We need your help!”

Two miles away, the alarms sounded at Northwest Fire/Rescue District Station 30. The dispatcher’s voice was measured, but the words conveyed the urgency: engine. Rescue. Battalion.

Firefighter and paramedic Tony Compagno reached for his fire gear and then heard the words: 10 people shot.

“At the fire?” Compagno asked his captain.

“There’s no fire,” the captain said. The radio buzzed. The units flew.

Compagno and his crew were among the first to arrive. They waited for police to let them through and found chaos. Bodies. So much blood.

Compagno was assigned triage: assess and count the victims and figure out who needed help first. No time to write it down. He had to keep it in his head.

I gotta get in there, he thought, gotta make the count.

He saw a man lying face down in a pool of blood and fixed on the image. His mind froze for an instant. So much blood.

Come on! he told himself. Come on!

He heard yelling, and one voice broke through.

“Congresswoman Giffords has been shot! Over here!”

Compagno ran to her. She was alive. He stood in the cramped walkway in front of the store and scanned the ground. He did the numbers. Four dead for sure. Seven people needed immediate attention. A little girl on the ground.

He heard another voice, from someone else in the crew.

“How many helicopters?”

“Launch all of them,” Compagno said.

Then another voice. Engine 33 was on the scene.

“Who? Who’s next?”

Who’s next? he thought.

“Her,” Compagno said, pointing to the little girl, bloodied, unconscious. “Her.”

He knew her injuries were significant. Terrible. But the dad in him . . . he didn’t want her to be dead.



The sun rises behind the Safeway where the shooting in Tucson occurred. (Pat Shannahan/AZ Republic)


The second crew was up. Compagno pointed them toward the woman in the red coat.

Colt Jackson bent down and took her hand. “Hi, I’m Paramedic Jackson,” he said. “Can you hear me?”

She squeezed his hand.

He went through the basics, the ABCs: check her airway, breathing and circulation. He put her on oxygen. He turned to a young man at the patient’s side, dark hair, glasses. The man hadn’t budged, even with all the blood.

Hold her like this, Jackson told him. It will protect her back.

“This is Congresswoman Giffords,” the young man said. “I’m staying.”

Daniel Hernandez had been an intern for her office for exactly five days when he arrived for the meet-and-greet at the Safeway that morning.

When the shooting started, other staffers went down, hit. One of them, Ron Barber, turned to Hernandez. “Make sure you stay with Gabby,” Barber said. “Make sure you help Gabby.”

Hernandez had pressed his bare hand against her head to stop the bleeding until medics arrived.

Now, he walked alongside the stretcher, holding her hand.

The ambulance doors opened. He climbed inside.

As the ambulances rolled out, headed south toward University Medical Center, Compagno continued directing the help at the scene. More paramedics flooded in as helicopters droned. But that wasn’t what Compagno noticed.

All around the victims were bystanders, family, friends – just regular people, comforting them, giving them CPR. One man used his belt as a tourniquet.

They’re not alone, he thought. None of them is alone.

James Palka left his house a few minutes before 10:30.

He had packed two cameras he used for event photography, the lenses set up for the meet-and-greet. He left the house where he ran his freelance business and turned on to Ina Road, heading east.

He was really just going out of personal interest, to photograph U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at her “Congress on Your Corner” event.

About a mile away from the Safeway, a speeding paramedic truck passed. Then another. A firetruck. He wondered if there had been an accident.

As he neared the shopping center, traffic slowed and sirens wailed again.

His stomach seized as the thought hit him. What if someone had tried to kill the congresswoman?

He reached Oracle Road and saw firetrucks and emergency vehicles and one . . . two . . . three . . . four ambulances.

Palka eased through the intersection. Most of the entrances had been blocked by wooden sawhorses and police tape, but he spotted a side driveway still open. He pulled in and parked. He got out of his car and somehow remembered to bring his camera.

He stood for a moment.

A scruffy-looking man stood near him behind the police line.

“What happened?” Palka asked.

“Someone shot the congresswoman,” the man said.

Palka felt weak. Why her? he asked himself. She’s one of the good ones.

For several minutes, Palka watched as a bystander, as a person.

He took pictures of parties, fundraisers. His work as a photographer hadn’t prepared him for this.

Then he remembered his camera. No one else was taking pictures, he realized, not even with a cellphone camera. He was carrying his 70-300mm telephoto and could see the scene from the police line.

He raised the camera and started taking pictures:

Emergency workers treating the wounded, lifting people onto gurneys.

Medical helicopters landing in the parking lot.

Police officers talking to witnesses.

Bloodied men and women comforting one another.

He heard voices rise, then saw paramedics pushing a gurney toward an ambulance. A young man stayed alongside, his hand on hers. The patient was clearly hurt badly, her head bloodied.

It was her. It was Giffords.

Palka snapped a series of photos as she was put in the ambulance.

It was 10:41 a.m. A half-hour had passed since the first shots were fired.



Paramedic Tony Compagno, of Northwest Fire and Rescue District Station 30, was a the first responder at the scene at the Safeway. (Nick Oza/AZ Republic)


Anna Ballis crouched on the sidewalk in front of the Safeway, applying pressure to the upper leg of Giffords’ district director. Ron Barber had been a total stranger only moments before. She propped his head on a jacket to make him more comfortable.

Ballis had stopped at the grocery store to buy beef broth for a roast she intended to put in a slow cooker. She saw Giffords’ event and thought about stopping, but the line looked too long.

Then a man with a white beard stepped out and encouraged her to come by after she’d finished. Giffords would still be here, he said.

Moments later, the shooting started. Ballis reacted instinctively, ducking behind a pillar, then under a table.

When the shooting stopped, she regained her bearings. Then she saw the man with the white beard, bleeding badly. She ran to his side and put pressure on his wound.

Barber seemed more concerned about everyone else than himself, and Ballis had to reassure him that Giffords and the others were being cared for. He squeezed her hand. “Thank you,” he said.

Steve Rayle sat on the gunman until sheriff’s deputies arrived. Then his medical training took over. A hospice doctor who had worked in emergency rooms, Rayle surveyed the scene. He moved from victim to victim, offering advice, encouragement, comfort. He administered CPR to one man.

But he couldn’t provide what the victims needed most.

Blood. They were losing too much blood. Someone brought clean rags and aprons from Safeway’s butcher shop. Rayle and others grabbed them, pressing down on the bleeding wounds.

Bill Badger could feel the stinging in his head, where a bullet had grazed him. Faith Salzgeber had found something from inside Walgreens to sop up the blood.

As paramedics treated his injury, Badger still held his mobile phone in his left hand. With his left thumb, he dialed home. His wife, Sallie, answered.

“I’ve been hit,” he said, his own words difficult to believe. “But I’m OK.”

Across the parking lot, in a Pima County sheriff’s vehicle, a young man sat in handcuffs. He wore a dark hooded sweatshirt. His face was bleeding and swollen.

Jared Loughner said almost nothing.

Roger Salzgeber began to tremble as the rush of adrenaline subsided and the chill morning air wrapped around him. He shook as he watched the emergency workers, watched his wife helping.

As paramedics ushered the uninjured away from the shooting scene, Roger and Faith began to settle in with the uneasy reality of what had happened.

The rage he had felt as he pinned the gunman began to give way to the truth.

Everyone around me, he thought, is either injured or dead.

The first ambulances were allowed on the scene at 10:19. More arrived over the next half-hour.

Rodeffer, the battalion chief, pushed crews to move quickly.

“Let’s get ‘em in ambulances and get ‘em on the road,” he said.

Thirteen people went to hospitals. One man drove himself. Five people died at the scene. Several others were in grave condition.

As the ambulances sped away and helicopters flew some of the wounded to UMC, the news began to break upon a stunned city and then a horrified nation. Another mass shooting.

Except this time, the shooting was at a congresswoman’s event.

Some of the earliest reports surfaced on National Public Radio.

The Internet blasted bulletins. Twitter feeds caught fire.

A brief mention on CNN grew into non-stop coverage.

The facts were scarce at first. Even as victims were rushed to hospitals, news crews could barely sketch out what had happened. How many shot? How many killed?

Then, soon, came the unthinkable. A dispatch presented with a question mark at first.

A report said it was true. Soon, other reports cited the first report.

The news caught up to anxious friends and relatives seeking word from hospitals. It caught up to worried onlookers.

It caught up to a private jet streaking from Houston toward Tucson, carrying a Navy pilot-turned-astronaut, racing to be with his congresswoman wife.

The word flashed across the Internet, then the airwaves.

Gabrielle Giffords was dead.

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    • It's Me Again

      Loughner should be taken out into the desert in Arizona and shot.

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