Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) was to return Sunday night to the site where she was shot in the head and six others were killed exactly one year ago.
It was to be the first public appearance since the tragedy for the Congresswoman. Dozens were at the Safeway to commemorate the day at 10:11 a.m. when the first shots were fired. Gail Gardiner, 70, lives nearby, and said she wanted to support the families most affected.
"This is my backyard, and this is where I want to be and show people that we remember this," she told ABC News. "It just hits so close to home and so many innocent people's lives were taken and changed forever."
Jared Lee Loughner has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges related to the shooting in which 18 people were shot. Christina-Taylor Green, 9, Chief Judge John Roll and four others died. Giffords was shot in the head, but thanks to the actions of intern Daniel Hernández, Jr., who applied pressure to the wound and prevented Giffords from choking, she survived.
Volunteers and residents have scheduled dozens of events in and around Tucson, including a candlelight vigil set for 6:30 p.m. local time, according to a website dedicated to the tragedy.
Giffords’ husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, was to speak at the vigil, but Giffords is not expected to speak with media or address the crowd, a representative said.
“Congresswoman Giffords wanted to be back in Tucson for this very emotional weekend,” Pia Carusone, Giffords’ chief of staff, said in a press release. “She felt it was important to be in her hometown with her family, staff members and a few close friends.”
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Many of the survivors are expected at an event at UA Centennial Hall this afternoon. Among those to speak are Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado), who was born in Tucson, Judge Raner Collins who served with Roll, two of Christina-Taylor’s friends, and Pat Maisch, who grabbed a gun clip dropped to the ground by the suspect.
Giffords and Kelly issued a photo on Saturday, giving many a rare look at her remarkable recovery. They paid tribute to victim Gabe Zimmerman, who had a memorial set up in his honor at Davidson Canyon near Tucson. The photo shows Giffords in good spirits, evidently making strides since a halting TV interview with Diane Sawyer in November. Many are now questioning her return to politics; she has until May to decide, the Christian Science Monitor says.
However, Bruce Ash, a Republican National Committee member from Arizona, said that’s secondary now.
“This is about the time that, if it were an open seat, people would start coming forward,” he told CSM. “I’m sure there will be lots of speculation on whether she’s running or not. But the only thing that’s important is Gabrielle Giffords returning to full health.”