Routine event turned deadly fast

  • Article by: NEWS SERVICES , New York Times
  • Updated: January 10, 2011 - 12:17 AM

"I thought: 'I'm next,'" said one of several civilians who helped stop the spree of the rampaging gunman.

TUCSON, ARIZ. - Patricia Maisch was waiting in line Saturday with her husband to get a picture with their member of Congress, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Suddenly, gunfire erupted, and blood was spilling onto the pavement.

The woman next to Maisch was shot twice as she shielded a teenage daughter. "I thought: 'I'm next. I'm next to her. He's going to shoot me. I'm next,' " Maisch said in an interview Sunday.

But when the man stopped to reload, two men tackled him and Maisch, 61, restrained his hand as he reached for a new 31-round ammunition clip for his Glock semi-automatic.

Maisch said she never found out the names of the men who tackled the gunman but she noticed one was bleeding heavily from a gunshot wound in the head.

The wounded tackler was apparently Bill Badger, 74, who was grazed by a bullet in the back of his head.

Badger said another man slammed a folding metal chair into the shooter's head, knocking him to the ground. Badger, a retired U.S. Army colonel, put his knee on the gunman's arm and held his neck and rear to keep him pinned down. "It was natural to not let this guy shoot anymore people," Badger said in a phone interview.

When authorities took over and arrested the man, Badger said, "I stood up and my knees were shaking."

Pima County sheriff's officials said two other men, Roger Salzgeber and Joseph Zamudio, helped subdue the gunman

"Gabby was my friend," Salzgeber said simply.

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said he was grateful for the citizens' interventions, saying they may have prevented further bloodshed. "It's a possibility we might have double the victims we have now [if they had not acted]," he said.

Giffords had been upbeat Saturday morning as she arrived at the event to meet constituents. She and an aide parked an SUV in the lot of La Toscana Village, a mall about 8 miles north of downtown Tucson. She posted a message on her Twitter account: "My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now."

Giffords walked over to the sidewalk in front of the Safeway to the area where she was to stand as she spoke one-on-one with constituents for the next 90 minutes. Standing, smiling and jaunty, she began the discussions, part of her repertoire since she was elected to Congress in 2006.

At that moment, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, blue jeans and sunglasses, approached one of Giffords' aides, Alex Villec, and said he wanted time with Giffords. Villec, one of about five staff members there, asked him to stand at the back of a line of 20 people waiting their turn. At first, Loughner complied, Villec recalled Sunday.

But a moment later, he said, Loughner was back, walking swiftly past him, eyes steeled, heading for the table where Giffords was speaking. He raised his arm and opened fire.

Loughner kept up his fatal barrage, dancing up and down excitedly, turning from Giffords before firing, apparently indiscriminately, at her constituents, staff and the random passersby.

Besides those who restrained the man, authorities singled out Daniel Hernandez Jr., one of Giffords' interns, for his efforts during the shooting.

Hernandez, 20, a junior at the University of Arizona, had joined Giffords' office last Monday and was working at Saturday's event.

After the shots were fired, Hernandez, who was certified as a nursing assistant in high school, checked on several victims before seeing Giffords slumped forward in a contorted position.

He put her head in an upright position against his chest and applied pressure to her head wound to stanch the bleeding. He also asked Giffords questions, such as if she understood that help was on its way, and she would respond by squeezing his hand.

"I'm pretty sure she knew what was going on," he said.

The Los Angeles Times and New York Times contributed to this report.

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