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Tribute worded to give aide "first" honor

By Suzanne Gamboa

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 30 2011 10:30 a.m. MST

WASHINGTON — This is true: Gabe Zimmerman, community outreach director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was shot to death while working as a congressional aide.

This is true, too: He was not the first Capitol Hill staffer killed in the line of duty.

To find an appropriate way to honor his service, a Democratic colleague and good friend of Giffords carefully worded a resolution that cited Zimmerman as the first congressional aide "murdered" on the job.

But many lawmakers didn't notice the nuanced wording of the resolution sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. For example, House Majority Leader John Boehner, in a speech from the House floor, praised Zimmerman as "the first congressional staffer to give his life in the line of duty. And God-willing, the last."

Zimmerman was one of six people killed when a man opened fire Jan. 8, 2011, while Giffords was meeting with constituents in a store parking lot. Giffords was shot in the head and continues going through rehabilitation. Twelve others were wounded.

Wasserman-Shultz's spokesman Jonathan Beeton said the language of the resolution was based on research by the Congressional Research Service and Justice Department. Giffords' office, following up on a question from Giffords' husband Mark Kelly, asked the research service whether any other member of Congress had been victims of violence.

The research service checked records as far back as 1789 and found there had been 21 attacks on 24 members of Congress, with seven resulting in the deaths of seven members and five of the attacks affecting congressional staff. Two of the attacks on staffers involved gunfire. One was the Arizona shooting in which Zimmerman was killed. The other was the 1998 shooting by a lone gunman who entered the Capitol, killing two Capitol police officers, Pvt. 1st Class Jacob Chesnut and detective John Gibson.

The research did not delve into deaths of congressional staffers in other ways.

But three Hill staffers were among the 16 people killed in 1989 when a plane carrying Rep. Mickey Leland of Texas crashed into a mountainside in Ethiopia while on a hunger-relief mission. They were Patrice Yvonne Johnson, Leland's chief of staff; Hugh Johnson, a staff member on the House Select Committee on Hunger; and Joyce Williams, a staffer for former Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Calif.

A report issued by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Agency attributed the accident to pilot error and bad weather.

Other staffers, some doing campaign work, have died in plane crashes, but the House and Senate did not have records of congressional aides' deaths while on duty.

Beeton said the fact that Zimmerman was "intentionally killed" is "beside the point." The point of the resolution is to honor the life and service of someone "who clearly was murdered while helping the people of southern Arizona interact with their local congresswoman."

The resolution honoring Zimmerman passed the House 419-0.

Online: Zimmerman resolution: http://1.usa.gov/uJAOEQ

Mickey Leland: http://1.usa.gov/v5lMkF

Follow Suzanne Gamboa at http://www.twitter.com/APsgamboa

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