TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was among thousands of Tucson residents who took part in memorial events on Saturday to mark the upcoming anniversary of the shooting that left six dead, 13 wounded, and the Arizona representative with a bullet wound to her head.
On January 8, 2011, a gunman toting a semiautomatic pistol pumped bullet after bullet into a crowd gathered for a congressional outreach event outside a Tucson supermarket a year ago.
“The closer we get to Sunday, the more emotional it gets,” said Bill Badger, a retired Army colonel hailed as a hero for tackling accused gunman Jared Loughner as he attempted to reload.
More than 30 memorial events are scheduled across the Tucson area over the weekend.
Giffords and her husband on Saturday hiked a trail named for her slain aide Gabe Zimmerman. Elsewhere, a democracy festival benefiting Zimmerman drew roughly 50 people to a decorated courtyard at Pima Community College, where Loughner, a 23-year-old college dropout, attended class.
About two dozen people read portions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Among the readers was former Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez Jr., who came to the congresswoman’s aid immediately after she was shot.
Tucson resident Becky Harper said she hoped the events will unify the grieving community.
“But you turn on the news, and people are still shooting each other,” Harper said.
Giffords’ spokesman Mark Kimble, who was standing near her when she was shot, said the events are emotionally difficult.
“I think very often about it on Saturday mornings, especially this time of year when the weather is similar. It reminds me of it,” he said.
Giffords, who has been undergoing intensive therapy in Houston since she was shot, will join a candlelight vigil at the University of Arizona on the evening of January 8 with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.
The event is expected to draw thousands of residents in this close-knit town of 520,000 people.
Also taking part in the vigil will be Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of the division of trauma, critical care and emergency surgery at the University of Arizona Medical Center, who treated Giffords and others who were wounded in the shooting.
Some survivors have chosen to talk about the traumatic events of the shooting. But Navy veteran Eric Fuller, who was shot in the leg and back a year ago, said he preferred not to dwell on the tragedy.
“I don’t want to go on Dr. Phil and tell him how long I cried after I got shot,” Fuller told Reuters.
Fuller said he would attend events including a church service and vigil on Sunday evening.
Loughner was arrested and charged with crimes including attempting to assassinate Giffords. He pleaded not guilty.
Found mentally unfit to stand trial, he is being treated in a federal prison hospital in Missouri.
Writing by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Ian Simpson