Tucson Rep. Gabrielle Giffords led a crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance, her words ringing out across a cold Tucson night in a rare public appearance Sunday evening at a candlelight vigil one year after surviving a deadly shooting.
The Democratic congresswoman, who has struggled to relearn to walk after being shot in the head, stepped onstage to cheers from the crowd. Ron Barber, a staffer who was wounded in the rampage that killed six one year ago, invited her to lead the audience in the pledge.
The crowd chanted: “Gabby, Gabby.”
She limped to the podium, and husband Mark Kelly helped lift her left hand over her heart. After months of intensive speech therapy, Giffords recited the pledge with the audience, head held high and a smile on her face as she punched each word.
The remembrance at the University of Arizona capped off a day of events, including 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.
With hugs and tears, southern Arizonans remembered the dead, the shattered lives and those who acted heroically after a gunman opened fire at an outdoor meet-and-greet that severely wounded Giffords and 12 others.
“Even in the midst of this troubling year, the healing, the courage that we have experienced in our community — each one of us can notice how our cups overflow with the blessings of our lives,” said Stephanie Aaron, Giffords’ rabbi, who recited the 23rd Psalm at an interfaith service at the cathedral Sunday afternoon.
Relatives of the six dead walked solemnly down the aisle with a single red rose, placing the flowers in a vase in front of a picture of a heart.
Hundreds of people at the cathedral, including Gov. Jan Brewer, stood and chanted, “We remember, we remember, we remember with grateful hearts.” Some closed their eyes while others held each other.
At the evening service, 19 candles marked the lost and the survivors. Giffords and Kelly lit one candle together as an orchestra played and many in the crowd wept. The emotional service brought together many who survived the shooting, and those who lost loved ones.
Suzi Hileman, who was shot three times, took the stage, hugged Giffords and walked to the candle area. She lit one, put her hands over her heart and mouthed “thank you” to the crowd.
Giffords, 41, has spent the last year in Houston undergoing intensive physical and speech therapy in a recovery that doctors and family have called miraculous. She is able to walk and talk, vote in Congress and gave a televised interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer in May.
But 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.
Barber said he spent time with Giffords on Friday and Saturday.
“Even though it’s a hard weekend for her and all of us, she wanted to be here with her community to remember,” he said. “She’s sad, we’re all sad, and she’s glad to be home.”