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Rep. Giffords leads Tucson shooting remembrance

By Amanda Lee Myers

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 9 2012 2:16 a.m. MST

People hold candles during a memorial vigil remembering the victims and survivors one year after a gunman shot Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz.

Ross D. Franklin, Associated Press

TUCSON, Ariz. — After a year of struggling to re-learn how to walk and speak, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords confidently climbed the steps on an outdoor stage on Sunday and led a crowd of hundreds in the Pledge of Allegiance, her words ringing out on a cold Tucson night just one year after she survived a gunshot to the head.

The remembrance at the University of Arizona culminated a day of events, some filled with sadness and regret, others with hope and joy.

Many wept at an afternoon event as two 10-year-olds remembered their best friend, Christina-Taylor Green, who was killed in the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting, along with five others.

Some danced in celebration after Giffords' husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, told the crowd at the candlelight vigil that the 13 survivors who emerged from the shooting showed that "alongside human frailty there is also strength."

And they chanted — "Gabby! Gabby! — when Giffords limped to the podium, and, after months of intensive speech therapy, recited the pledge with the audience, head held high and a smile on her face as she punched each word.

" ... with LIBERTY and JUSTICE for ALL!" the Democratic congresswoman shouted, almost defiantly.

The day included a church service that drew hundreds in the afternoon and a citywide bell-ringing at 10:11 a.m., the exact time a gunman started shooting at a Safeway political event on Jan. 8, 2011.

Suzi Hileman, who took her young friend and neighbor, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, to meet Giffords that day, took the stage at the vigil and hugged Giffords, walking to the candle area, lighting one of 19 candles for all those killed and wounded, and mouthing "thank you" to the crowd.

Ron Barber, a Giffords staffer who was shot twice, helped lead events throughout the day, including the vigil. He woke up Sunday dreaming about Giffords, who was severely wounded, and Giffords staffer Gabe Zimmerman, who died.

"You have to think about the six people whose loved ones don't have them today," Barber said.

And Giffords, 41, who unexpectedly spoke Sunday after spending the past year in Houston undergoing intensive physical and speech therapy in a recovery that doctors and family have called miraculous.

"You made us so proud and happy when just months after your injury, you were in Congress casting your vote," said Dr. Peter Rhee, who treated Giffords at the hospital after she was shot. "We're so looking forward to having you back."

Doctors have said it would take many months to determine the lasting effects of her brain injury. The three-term congresswoman has four months to decide whether to seek re-election.

On Sunday, she smiled and nodded during the service, but didn't clap her hands. She walked with assistance, under the watchful eye of Kelly. Giffords and Kelly lit a candle together, and she rose to hug survivor Pam Simon.

"Even though it's a hard weekend for her and all of us, she wanted to be here with her community to remember," said Barber, who spent time with Giffords throughout the weekend. "She's sad, we're all sad, and she's glad to be home."

President Barack Obama called Giffords on Sunday to offer his support and tell her he and the first lady are keeping her, the families of those killed and the whole Tucson community in their thoughts and prayers, according to the White House. He said Giffords was an inspiration to all Americans.

Jared Lee Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges in the shooting. The 23-year-old, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, is being forcibly medicated at a Missouri prison facility in an effort to make him mentally ready for trial.

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