I’ve spent this year chronicling Gabby Giffords’ journey to find her voice again. In an exclusive interview with her husband, Mark Kelly — and through home videos of her recovery the family shared with me — an understanding of her journey emerges. Read here.
I’m at NASA in Cape Canaveral tonight, where I watched Commander Mark Kelly guide Space Shuttle Endeavour to Earth for the last time. The shuttle comes in like a glider: quietly, and without external lights and engines. It landed at 2:35 a.m. Florida time, breaking through the shadows into a balmy, breezy night. Kelly’s wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, did not attend the landing, but her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, watched the landing from the top of the NASA bleachers with tears in her eyes.
(Photo: The Orlando Sentinel)
Now, I’m in the NASA newsroom, waiting for the astronauts’ post-flight press conference.
Sorry for the long silence: I’ve been in Houston, Texas writing about astronaut Mark Kelly as he prepares to launch space shuttle Endeavour on Friday. I’ve also been learning about the progress of his wife, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. On Sunday, my stories appeared in The Arizona Republic. The first was an exclusive report inside Rep. Giffords’ recovery — the first intimate picture of how she’s really doing since the Jan. 8 shooting. A series of interviews with her doctors, nurse, staff and husband painted a clear snapshot of the congresswoman during week 15 of her rehabilitation. She is left-handed now, walking slowly, hoping to “walk a mountain,”her nurse told me. Her speech is labored as she works to pull the words she wants to say from her mind, her doctors said. And I heard about the day she found out about the deaths of Jan. 8, and the sad phrase she kept repeating. Read the story here. The story got the attention of many national news outlets. I appeared on NPR, the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, and our partners 12 News, of course, to discuss. (You can watch/listen if you click the links above.)
In Texas, I also had an exclusive interview with Commander Kelly. I told him we were going to talk about feelings. He laughed, but what a story he had to tell — about being bound for space and yet feeling this tug for home toward Gabby. (Katie Couric had the TV exclusive, but we had the print opportunity.) Republic reporter extraordinaire Shaun McKinnon paired with me to write it for the paper, and I owe him a trip to the moon or something like it. Read the story here. I’m proud to have my name next to Shaun’s.
I hope you all got to see the paper on Sunday — it looked spectacular. Cheryl Evans worked hard to get the photos, and the design by Keri Hegre, Keira Nothaft and Jen Cieslak was really special. I loved the headlines, too — by Josh Susong. They were among my favorite things about it. Thanks to Josh and editor Diane Porter afor shepherding patiently and wisely, making sure each sentence was its best, and so many others stayed late and put in extra thought and work to make it great. (Also: here’s to the awesome intern Samantha Bush who joined Diane and I in a Cherry Coke Zero spree one night to help transcribe some of the interviews — and Kiali Wong and Karen Schmidt, too.)
**Next up: a report about my ride in the space shuttle simulator at NASA with the astronauts.
From Sunday’s paper:
By Jaimee Rose
TUCSON – A dark week here, but on the night the president addressed the nation, a drum major stood outside the arena with his band and his saxophone and considered the moon.
The air was crisp and clear, the drum major’s uniform blue and red, and wistful bars of “America the Beautiful” drifted among his bandmates as they practiced their serenade for the exiting throng.
“A waxing moon,” said Marcos Urrea, 21. “That means it’s getting bigger.”
It was a lingering omen across this aching city all week: a moon growing in the sky, a Congresswoman who survived, strangers who tackled a gunman, husbands who offered their lives to save their wives, and a trauma surgeon so desperate to rescue a 9-year-old girl that he opened her chest and held her heart in his hand.
There is tragedy in Tucson, but waxing slivers of triumph, too.
He worked on her for seven minutes, maybe longer than he would have if she hadn’t been so young, but Dr. Randall S. Friese couldn’t help Christina-Taylor Green, one of six killed by a gunman targeting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Safeway here last Saturday. He tried CPR. He tried opening her chest and inserting an IV line of blood right into her heart. He tried squeezing her heart himself.
“It just couldn’t beat,” he said.
Friese avoided Christina-Taylor’s parents when he went to her funeral — his first service, for a patient — because he couldn’t let them see his grief. But when he walked up to the church wearing scrubs and a white coat, he passed a soaring symbol of hope: the National 9/11 Flag, rescued from the World Trade Center ruins, sent from New York to honor Christina-Taylor, who was born Sept. 11, 2001.
The flag looks different now than when it was pulled from wreckage, tattered and burned. In the years since that day, mourners across the country stepped in to change its story, sewing their own American flags over the its wounds, a patchwork of hope to cover the pain.
“It takes something like this to make us realize how important we are to each other,” said Friese, 46.
Every day of this long week, there was light to be found every time it seemed the city needed a lift, constant evidence of the human instinct to fight, to try, to help, to sacrifice, to work, to love.
Roxana Safipour began Tucson’s own patchwork of triumph on Saturday night, when the 23-year-old lit the first candle on the lawn at the University Medical Center in Tucson and began the community vigil. Inside the hospital, 20-year-old intern Daniel Hernandez sat with his mother and sisters, telling them about how he ran toward a fallen Giffords that day, only his fifth on the job, unsure if the gunfire had stopped, and then used his bare hand to staunch her bleeding.
Paramedic Tony Compagno remained at Northwest Fire/Rescue Station 30 until after midnight Saturday, running out on more emergency calls, and talking through the day with the team. He was almost first on the scene, in charge of triage: counting victims, deciding who to help first, answering when other rescuers asked him, “‘ Who? Who’s next?'”, helping to get victims like Giffords to the hospital an astounding 23 quick minutes after his team arrived at Safeway.
And still, hours later, he wasn’t sure — had he done everything right? His team assured him that he was perfect, as good as it gets. But there was that moment in the beginning when his brain seemed to freeze, and “I got mad at myself,” he says, and “had to tell myself ‘Come on!’
“It wasn’t the blood,” Compagno said, “It was just being there, with that many people, laying around.” He also remembered being amazed by the bystanders, just regular people, comforting victims, giving CPR, even one who had used a belt as a tourniquet.
“I don’t remember any of the victims being alone,” he said.
On Sunday, a love story, that of Dorwan Stoddard, 76, a church handyman and the childhood sweetheart of his wife, Mavy Stoddard, 75. He was killed while shielding her body with his. She lived.
On Monday, Mary Reed talked how she heard something loud and awful outside Safeway that day, and pushed her daughter Emma, 17, up against a brick wall, cradling and covering Emma’s body with her own.
“Yes, a mama bear,” Mary said. The gunman was two feet away when Mary felt the first bullet hit her, and then the second, and then the third. Reed watched, paralyzed, as 61-year-old Patricia Maisch made her brave move. Maisch was lying on the sidewalk listening to gunshots, sure she was next, when someone yelled “get the magazine,” and she wrestled it away from the gunman.
One of the bullets grazed and bloodied Bill Badger’s scalp, but the 74-year-old retired Army colonel ignored the stinging and burning and tackled suspect Jared Loughner to the ground. Badger and Roger Salzgeber kept Loughner there, tightening their grip on his neck and pressing into his back each time he moved. After, Badger went to the hospital and Salzgeber went from victim to victim, helping, and he still can’t talk about it, not yet.
By Tuesday, there was Dr. Peter Rhee on the news, grinning and quipping and giving Giffords a “101%” chance of survival. Her office released a photo of her hand, cradled in her husband’s.
And then there was Obama on Wednesday, and Obama hugging Daniel Hernandez on the stage at the McKale Center, and all of the people who fought Loughner there, together, in one place, with the president. Dr. Rhee came, and when he ran through the admission line in a hurry, his white coat trailing behind him, the crowd cheered. When Obama spoke, he told America that Gabby had opened her eyes, and the arena erupted with joy. He talked about how the triumph of Tucson could inspire a country, and how the innocence of a girl like Christina-Taylor Green should be example to all.
“I believe we can be better,” he said. “Those who died here, those who saved lives here –they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness. . .
“That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina-Taylor Green believed,” he said. “I want us to live up to her expectations.”
Back in Giffords’ hospital room that evening, friends said, her husband asked her to lift her thumb and instead she lifted her whole arm, reached for him, and touched his wedding ring, like a sign that she was still trying, that she was still there.
And by Thursday, when Pamela Keys took her two small kids to stand on the street outside Christina-Taylor’s funeral, she was convinced. There was something good here she could teach her children. Keys dressed them in angel white — their karate jackets were all she could find — and stood Zachary, 6, and Zia, 4, outside that church, quiet as the hearse carrying the 9-year-old rolled past.
“We’ve been talking a lot about good guys and bad guys, and death and what it means” said Keys, 48, of Tucson, one of thousands of people who came to mourn Christina-Taylor that day, and one of hundreds lining the street . “And I just wanted them to see all the goodness in Tucson, and all the good people there are in the world.”
And that afternoon, as John Green laid his daughter to rest, he told friends news of a little girl in Boston, her life saved by organs donated by Christina-Taylor.
Friday was the seventh day of mourning, the day of Judge John Roll’s funeral, the day the barrel cactus outside his church put forth crowns of yellow blooms, welcoming over 1,700 admirers that included Roll’s grandkids and court bailiffs, even Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and judges from Los Angeles, Washington, New York. People watched as an ambulance arrived at the funeral to deliver victim Ron Barber, Roll’s close friend, straight from the hospital — a bandage on his cheek, and a boot on his leg, and tender steel in his eyes.
Seven days, and the stories were everywhere: Kenneth Dorushka, who forced his wife Carol to the ground and put HIS arm around her head to protect her, an arm HIT by a bullet seconds later. They both lived. Suzi Hileman, who took Christina-Taylor to meet her congresswoman and then wrapped her own body around the girl’s, trying to save her, and now Hileman’s own anguish in realizing that even offering her life wasn’t enough.
That makeshift memorial outside the hospital has grown every night this week: new bouquets of grocery store roses and hand-lettered cards that stretch almost 20 feet deep and the whole lawn wide. It is witness to sadness, filled with photos and names of the 13 people injured and the six people killed and the heartache of a city to go along with. But tucked in the crevices of the posterboard and teddy bears, there are small signs that offer simple words: hope, faith, peace.
Because this week has been about that, too.
Come sunset, that lawn begins to glitter with hundreds of candles, small flashes of light that usher in a growing, waxing moon.
Photos, from top: AP, courtesy Rep. Giffords’ office, and two by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic. (Read about his incredible desert moon photo here.)