Sample Chapter

The following is a sample chapter from The Tucson Tragedy: Lessons from the Senseless Shooting of Gabrielle Giffords.

Chapter 5
A Day Marked by Unparalleled Heroism

From the moment the shooter pulled his gun, many of those present immediately sprang into action. Significantly, among the six who perished that day, three died as a direct result of their selfless actions to save others.

Giffords’ aide Gabe Zimmerman, charged with organizing the January 8 event, arrived early that morning. He had organized 20 or so “Congress on Your Corner” events; ironically the first of these events was at the Safeway where the shooting occurred. Standing several feet away from Giffords at the fateful gathering, Zimmerman immediately ran to her aid as soon as she was shot. He was instantly shot and killed.

Dorwan “Dory” Stoddard and his wife Mavy were seventh in line when the shooting broke out. In a valiant final act of love he pushed Mavy to the ground and covered her body with his own. He was shot in the head and his wife held onto him and spoke to him as he took his last breaths.

Judge John Roll, who dropped by to say hello to Gabby, was shot in the back and mortally wounded. Days later, examination of the Safeway surveillance video records revealed the Judge’s final actions in which he sacrificed his own life to save another’s. After indiscriminately firing at a group of seated attendees, Loughner then shot Giffords’ district director, Ron Barber. Roll instantly moved Barber toward the ground and both crawled under a table. He then got on top of Barber, taking a fatal bullet wound in the back.

Kenneth Dorushka and his wife Carol were halfway through the line when Lochner pulled his gun. Kenneth instantly threw his wife to the ground and shielded her head with his arm – which was struck by gunfire. “That would’ve been my bullet” his wife, Carol, recalled. Most likely Dorushka’s quick thinking action saved her life.

George Morris also threw his wife Dorothy to the ground when the shooting started and dived for her. As soon as he reached her he realized it was too late – she had already been killed by the shooter. George was shot in the chest and leg and was rushed to UMC.

Daniel Hernandez, Jr., a junior at the University of Arizona, had been an intern for the Congresswoman for only five days when she was shot. Standing about 30 feet from Giffords, he immediately ran toward the gunfire quickly moving from person to person and checking their pulses. He ran to Giffords who was lying on the sidewalk and profusely bleeding. Using his hand he applied pressure to the wound on her forehead, while pulling her into his lap and holding her upright against him to prevent her from choking on her own blood. While doing this he instructed a bystander on how to apply pressure to one of Ron Barber’s wounds. Twenty year old Hernandez credits his ability to provide immediate medical assistance to Red Cross training he received while in high school. His quick heroic actions are credited with saving Giffords’ life.

Meanwhile, three attendees working together managed to subdue the shooter. Bill Badger (74) and Roger Salzgeber (61) tackled Loughner, pushing him to the ground beside Patricia Maisch (61). At the time Badger was bleeding from a wound where seconds earlier a bullet had grazed the back of his head. While the men were grappling with the shooter, someone was yelling to get the gun. As Loughner attempted to reload he pulled an extended magazine out of his pocket and dropped it: Maisch grabbed the magazine, disarming the shooter. Maisch credits Badger and Salzgeber with saving her life and has formed a close bond with both of them since the shooting.

Joseph Zamudio (24), ran to the parking lot from Walgreens and helped pin down the shooter. Running toward Loughner and the two men attempting to restrain him, he saw an older man holding a gun and assumed he was the shooter. While he was carrying a concealed gun, Zamunido wisely decided to keep it in his pocket. Had he pulled his gun, he might have compounded the tragedy by shooting Badger, who had wrested the gun from Loughner’s hand!

Once the shooter was subdued a number of bystanders rushed in to apply first aid to the victims. Bob Pagano, who had been shopping at Safeway, ran out the door toward the crowd when the shooting started. He administered first aid to Giffords’ aide Pam Simon, who had been shot in the chest and wrist. When the paramedics arrived he followed her to UMC, staying with her in the emergency service until her husband arrived.

Nancy Bowman, RN and her husband David Bowman, M.D. both jumped in to help. Nancy administered first aid and CPR to a number of victims, including Judge John Roll and Suzi Hileman, who had accompanied Christina-Taylor Green to the gathering. Vickie Stubbs, a 50-year old accountant who had recently received CPR training, helped Bowman administer first aid. David Bowman also administered medical assistance and was one of four doctors who happened to be on the scene.

Tony Compagno and Colt Jackson were the first paramedics to arrive at 10:19 AM. Compagno admits he was momentarily overwhelmed by the horror he confronted at the scene of the shooting. Both Compagno and Jackson immediately began assessing and triaging the 19 shooting victims; Congresswoman Giffords and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green were designated as the highest priority victims.

Most likely more lives would have been lost had it not been for the effective medical assistance rendered by those at the scene of the shooting together with the speed and organization of the first responders. Fire Department Captain Adam Goldberg reported that within 35 minutes after the first call was received, nearly 100 emergency personnel were on the scene. Included in the effort were six engines, 12 ambulances and three helicopters. In Goldberg’s words “It was a phenomenal community response”.

From the second the victims arrived at their doorsteps physicians, nurses and other staff at the four receiving hospitals put forth heroic efforts to respond to victims’ needs. The most seriously injured, including Giffords, Christina-Taylor Green and 10 others, were rushed by ambulance to the UMC Trauma Center. The trauma team, headed up by Peter Rhee, M.D., MPH, medical director of the Trauma and Critical Care Division, is credited with providing an extremely well-orchestrated, compassionate and highly skilled response that saved as many lives as possible.

At a press conference held on January 21, nurses from UMC’s trauma intensive care unit who cared for Gabrielle Giffords and other victims brought to the hospital, were lauded for their heroism and highly skilled response to the mass shooting. In the words of UMC spokesperson Katie Riley, “They were the unsung heroes of the tragedy of two weeks ago.”

Nurse Tracy Culbert was in charge of the unit that morning when they were alerted of a lot of patients coming in with gun wounds. The team immediately sprang into action – patients who could be discharged or moved to other units were moved, nurses started preparing beds and care stations, and more nurses were assigned to the unit. Nurse Angelique Tadeo explained “Our training does kick in (and) we immediately go into triage mode: who needs what first, second.” The transition between the day shift and night shift was seamless. In the words of one night shift nurse “We knew what we were walking into that night and we were ready to jump in.”

Other Heroes Step Forward

In addition to the courageous responses provided by those at the frontlines, many other heroes stepped up to the plate that day and in the days that followed.

Most assuredly this list is headed up by Congresswoman Giffords herself. Despite a prescient fear of being shot at a public gathering following the extremely vicious campaign season the previous year, she exuberantly showed up at the Safeway parking lot Saturday morning, eager to reach out to her constituents in the unmistakably down to earth and highly personable style that is her hallmark. Her consistent and determined efforts to bounce back from the grievous wounds she received that ill-fated morning continue to astound her doctors and everyone who follows her day to day recovery. She is definitely a woman of “true grit”, spunk, and unparalleled determination who refuses to be held down!

The families of the victims and survivors responded in a most valiant manner by carrying on and extending comfort and reassurance to others, despite the devastating losses they had suffered. As recounted in the previous chapter, both John and Roxanna Green demonstrated unbelievable stature and courage in their determination to reach out and extend comfort to our community in the midst of the tragic loss of their precious daughter, Christina.

Along with the Greens, Gabrielle’s husband astronaut Mark Kelly continues to inspire our entire nation with his cool headed, compassionate demeanor as he stands by his wife’s side with unfailing confidence that she will emerge victorious from the horrible wounds she has suffered. I would go so far as to say that he has been our nation’s cheerleader in helping us carry on with our lives as proud Americans in the wake of this tragedy. While he will momentarily be away from Gabrielle’s side when he embarks on his upcoming space shuttle mission, he will most assuredly continue to hold her in the depth of his heart and soul every second of his journey through outer space.

It is impossible to give due recognition in this limited space to the thousands of people here in Tucson – as well as in the larger community throughout America and the world – who have courageously lent their efforts to healing the massive wounds that have emerged from this tragic shooting. Most definitely included here are the legions of counselors, therapists and clergy people who have been working overtime – often without compensation – to response to the needs of members of our community wrought by this tragedy.

Two names that immediately come to mind are Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and Dr. Brian Walker. In her capacity as Gabrielle’s spiritual advisor, Rabbi Stephanie continues to perform yeoman work in comforting members of her congregation and the larger community while spending countless hours by Gabrielle’s side providing her with prayer support and inspiration – even to the point of flying back and forth between Tucson and Houston following Gabrielle’s transfer to a rehabilitation center.

Dr. Brian Walker, a well-established psychologist specializing in anger management and violence prevention, who has graciously served as a resource for this book, is applying his skills to healing our community. Despite experiencing a deluge of patients in his practice following the shooting, in the wake of the shooting he has launched an effort to reach out to as many schools, agencies, businesses, churches, hospitals and court system offices as possible to educate our community concerning constructive alternatives to verbal and physical aggression in resolving interpersonal conflict.

One would be remiss in failing to cite the super-human efforts on the part of Congresswoman Gifford’s Tucson office staff in steadfastly carrying out their day to day duties in the aftermath of the shooting. These valiant public servants continue to “keep on keeping on” despite carrying heavy personal burdens of unresolved shock, grief and uncertainty following the loss of a beloved co-worker and the extreme injury inflicted on their beloved boss.

Many staff are carrying on despite experiencing an overwhelming level of burn-out, accentuated by emotional overload, overwork and the need to tactfully cope with a virtually constant intrusion by reporters and others seeking information in follow-up from the shooting. On top of this they have done a superb job of maintaining a strong and confident composure in their efforts to reassure a frightened and wary public that all is well. As is true with members of the victims’ families, we need to give these people space – and utmost respect for their privacy – together with our heartfelt prayers as they attempt to pick up the pieces and work through their personal healing processes.

Lessons to be Learned

On January 12 I was one of 26,000 people who witnessed President Obama’s memorial speech at the University of Arizona. Somehow the hours of waiting in never ending lines seemed to underscore the sense of community we shared together that day and evening.

In his speech our President movingly recounted the lives and the heroic actions of the six victims who perished, together with the unparalleled courage demonstrated that day by Gabrielle Giffords, Daniel Hernandez and countless others. I was especially struck by the following passage: “These men and women remind us that heroism is not found only on the fields of battle. They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, all around us, just waiting to be summoned…”

Recently at an annual luncheon held by the Tucson chapter of the American Red Cross to honor Ron Barber, Patricia Maisch, Joe Zamudio and other local heroes, Executive Director Richard White proclaimed “There is a hero in all of us waiting to be beckoned.”

Like most readers I vividly recall the tragedy wrought upon our nation on September 11, 2001 as thousands of innocent Americans perished at the hands of heartless terrorists. On that ghastly day and in the days that followed, thousands of victims and rescuers performed valiant acts of courage, the majority of which most likely went unsung. In effect, the tragic shooting here in Tucson on January 8 and the heroic actions of ordinary citizens documented in this book and elsewhere provide a microcosm of the horrific tragedy that befell our nation on 9/11/2001.

What can we learn from the altruistic acts of courage that spontaneously sprang forth from so many good hearted Americans on both of these tragic days? Returning to the January 8 shooting here in Tucson, I am awestruck with the realization that the split-second courageous responses of Gabe Zimmerman, Daniel Hernandez, Judge John Roll, Dory Stoddard and others as bullets flew through the air must have been an instinctual response – their brains could not possibly have had time to process what was happening and make a conscious decision before springing into action. How was it that the hearts and minds of these valiant people were pre-programmed to instantaneously respond to the chaos around them with unwavering acts of courage?

I firmly believe that heroism springs forth from the bosom of altruism. As Red Cross chapter director Richard White proclaimed in honoring our community’s heroes, “There is a hero in all of us waiting to be beckoned.” I would submit that we can begin to beckon the hero inside us by our daily thoughts and actions which water the seeds of heroism. It would serve us well, I believe, to make a personal commitment to act each day in a manner that brings forth the best in us. We can start with simple acts of helping others, like pausing for a few seconds in the midst of traffic to let another driver pull into our traffic lane, or holding the door open for someone burdened by an armload of packages or physical infirmity. We can also commit ourselves to consciously seek out opportunities to place our loved ones ahead of ourselves through simple choices like doing the dishes or taking out the garbage without being asked, or prying ourselves away from the PC or TV screen to spend precious time with our children.

In the course of writing this chapter I have pondered a number of important questions, such as:

  • Would our male readers, myself included, have instinctively shielded our wives or partners with our own bodies when the shooting started, as was Dory Stoddard’s immediate response? My hope is that each of us can answer this question resoundingly in the affirmative!
  • How many of us would have immediately – and unwaveringly – ran toward the line of fire to extend a helping hand to others, as was Daniel Hernandez’s immediate response when the shooting broke out?
  • How many of us would be able to call forth the unsurpassed determination and true grit that Gabrielle Giffords has demonstrated in response to the devastating injury she suffered when a bullet was shot through her brain on that awful day?

In keeping with the message of President Obama’s inspirational speech on January 12, may we commit ourselves to act daily in a manner that will water our inner seeds of heroism.