Giffords completes skydive on shooting anniversary
Former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Tucson, blows kisses to the media, waves, and says "it was wonderful" as she briefly describes her skydiving experience as the SUV she was in drives past media cameras Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, in Eloy, Ariz., marking the three year anniversary after she was shot in a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., during one of her political events. According to her Facebook page, she did the tandem skydive jump with her friend, former Navy SEAL Jimmy Hatch. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
FILE - Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, left, leads the Pledge of Allegiance accompanied by her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, at the start of a one year memorial vigil for the victims and survivors of the shooting that wounded Giffords, 12 others and killed six in this Sunday, Jan. 8, 2012 file photo taken in Tucson, Ariz. The three-year anniversary of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords will be marked Wednesday Jan. 8, 2013 with bell-ringing, flag-raising and other ceremonies, providing a moment of reflection for the former congresswoman. Giffords and Kelly plan to mark the anniversary privately with friends and other survivors of the attack. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)
In the three years since she was severely injured in a mass shooting at a political event, Gabrielle Giffords has made an impressive recovery, learned to walk again and founded a national political organization. Yesterday, while others gathered for bell-ringing and flag-raising ceremonies, she marked the anniversary by skydiving.
The former Arizona congresswoman waved and blew kisses to a crowd at a skydiving site between Phoenix and Tucson after landing without injury. She described the jump as a wonderful experience.
Giffords’s husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, posted a picture of her landing on his Twitter account.
“Happy she’s safe. So proud of her bravery,” he wrote.
Jimmy Hatch, a former Navy SEAL who accompanied Giffords, said she was the least nervous person on the plane.
Hatch said the group held hands and formed a circle shortly after exiting the aircraft and then made a line with Giffords in the middle. The entire skydive lasted about a minute, he said.
He called Giffords a “rock star” for making the jump on such an emotional day.
“It’s pretty incredible,” he said. “They did a little moment of silence at the drop zone. The emotion was really heavy. . . . She’s a testimony to making the best of what you have.”
Vice President Joe Biden called Giffords to wish her good luck on her jump, according to Biden’s office.
The 2011 mass shooting in Tucson left six people dead and injured 13 others, including Giffords.
About 100 residents of the city attended a ceremony yesterday outside the University of Arizona Medical Center, where the injured were treated.
A bell was rung once for each of the six people killed and the 12 wounded. A pastor also read a prayer and then a moment of silence followed at the event, one of several planned in the city.
“The wounds are still there. Time helps, but it doesn’t heal all the wounds,” Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said. “I think the commemorations are, in large part, recognition of our community’s collective care and compassion and grit to go on.”
A post on her Facebook page says Giffords has regained movement in her right arm but still struggles to speak and walk.
She has become a leader of Americans for Responsible Solutions, a national organization she founded with her husband to rival the powerful pro-gun lobby.
The group struggled to bring about any major changes at the federal and state level in its first year, but the couple is confident they laid the groundwork for success in future election cycles.
“The legacy of any day where there’s a mass shooting and loss of life is, I think, a chance to reflect on who these people were and what they did, particularly the people who died,” Kelly said in an interview with the Associated Press on the eve of the anniversary. “But it’s also a chance to look forward and see how we can make changes and reduce the numbers of instances like this that we have.”
Skydiving experts say it’s relatively safe for someone with Giffords’s physical struggles to make a jump. Nancy Koreen, a spokeswoman for the United States Parachute Association said almost anyone – depending on the extent of their disability or injuries – can do a tandem or solo jump.
Officials have announced plans for a permanent shooting memorial expected to be located downtown at the Old Pima County Courthouse and in an adjacent park. The sites would display some of the thousands of items, including letters, candles and flags that were placed in makeshift memorials after the shooting.
Some of the items were on display yesterday at libraries in Tucson.
“Like any community that experiences a tragedy, the citizens want to be connected to it in some way to show their appreciation and understanding and sympathy,” said Stephen Brigham, president of the January 8 Memorial Foundation.
Giffords and Kelly formed their organization just weeks after the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.