TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Bells rang across Tucson early Sunday marking the exact time last year the city was rocked by a deadly shooting spree that left Representative Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded.
Bells ringing at 10:11 a.m. local time, the moment of the January 8, 2011 shooting, were among the first of a day of remembrance events for survivors and Tucson residents across the city.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, made a surprise visit late on Saturday to the grocery store where a pistol-toting gunman pumped bullet after bullet into a crowd gathered for her congressional outreach meeting a year ago.
Gunfire struck and killed six people and wounded 13 others including Giffords, who was shot through the head and has been recovering at a Houston, Texas hospital.
About 200 people gathered at an Anglican church in north Tucson, near the scene of the shooting, for a service that remembered victims.
“When you think on it, it’s a healing moment,” said Dick Guthrie, a veteran congregant who said he had known Giffords since she was a teenager.
“I hope she continues to improve,” he added.
Gary Huckleberry, whose daughter witnessed the shooting and suffered trauma, said he found the service healing.
“A lot of us have come a long way since that date a year ago. For some people it will take much more time to get over it, but having this service...was healing,” he said.
While the bells rang slowly, echoing through the empty downtown streets, a crowd of about 300 people attended a morning Mass at St. Augustine Cathedral. It was the same spot where District Judge John Roll, Giffords’ friend who was killed in the attack last year, attended lunchtime Mass every day.
Other Sunday events include a service at St. Augustine Cathedral at 1 p.m., followed by a tribute at 3 p.m. honoring those killed in the rampage to be held at the University of Arizona’s Centennial Hall.
Accompanied by her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, Giffords made several unannounced visits around the city on Saturday, including the stop at the Safeway store in northwest Tucson where she was shot.
“Gabby just visited the Safeway for the 1st time since 1/8/11,” Kelly tweeted.
“It’s been a tough year, but we’re lucky to have so many people standing w/us,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Giffords hiked outside Tucson on a desert trail named for her slain aide Gabe Zimmerman and visited University of Arizona Medical Center staff who treated her and others for bullet wounds.
“I think it’s going to be a very cathartic weekend for all of us here in Tucson to see her in her hometown,” said Daniel Hernandez, an intern at Giffords’ office credited with saving her life as she lay in a pool of her own blood in the Safeway parking lot.
Giffords will attend a candlelight vigil at the University of Arizona on Sunday evening with her husband.
The event is expected to draw thousands of residents of Tucson, a city of 520,000 people that many describe as a “small big town.”
Also taking part in the vigil will be Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of trauma, critical care and emergency surgery at the University Medical Center, who treated Giffords and other victims.
College dropout Jared Loughner, 23, was arrested at the scene of the shooting 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 Colleen Jenkins