TUCSON, Ariz (Reuters) - Representative Gabrielle Giffords walked stiffly into an Arizona charity on Monday in a bittersweet farewell to voters before she steps down to focus on recovering from an assassination attempt last year.
Giffords, 41, was greeted by loud cheers from dozens of workers, volunteers and well-wishers as she entered the warehouse of a Tucson food bank, accompanied by an aide, Ron Barber, himself wounded in a shooting rampage that nearly killed Giffords.
When a supporter shouted, “Hi, Gabby!” she mouthed back a silent “hello” before mingling with members of the crowd, then visited a family-assistance center named in her honor after the tragedy and set up within the warehouse complex.
Among those gathered for her goodbye were a number of people present on the day she was shot through the head, some of them also wounded.
Giffords departed after about 30 minutes, pausing to handle a jar of peanut butter on a pallet of donated food as she left, without addressing throngs of media there to record the event.
“It’s a bittersweet day,” said Bret Berry, a foodbank board member who spoke briefly to the Arizona Democrat. “I applaud her for what she is doing in stepping down and getting herself 100 percent. But she’s been a phenomenal advocate for the district here and a representative for Arizona.”
Earlier on Monday at her district office in Tucson, she gathered with people including some who had provided emergency medical care and helped tackle the alleged killer.
Giffords was shot at close range when a gunman opened fire at her and bystanders gathered for a “Congress on Your Corner” meet-and-greet event outside a Tucson supermarket on January 8, 2011.
Six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge, and 13 others including Giffords were wounded.
Giffords on Sunday said she would resign from office this week to focus on her recovery from the head wound that has left her with faltering speech and some restricted movement.
“I have more work to do on my recovery, so to do what is best for Arizona I will step down this week,” she said, posting the statement on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. “I’m getting better. Every day my spirit is high. I will return and we will work together for Arizona and this great country. Thank you very much.”
Seen as a rising political star and a centrist politician, Giffords was one of the Democrats who prevailed in the Republican sweep of swing districts in the November 2010 elections.
She is set to attend President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday in Washington in one of her final official acts before resigning from the House of Representatives.
Her office said she would submit her letter of resignation this week to House Speaker John Boehner and Arizona Governor Jan Brewer. Arizona law requires Brewer to call a special election to fill Giffords’ seat.
Since the shooting, she has received intensive therapy at a hospital in Houston, Texas, and she has been assisted by her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.
Jared Loughner, a 23-year-old college dropout, was charged with first-degree murder, the attempted assassination of Giffords and other crimes stemming from the shooting. He pleaded not guilty and was found mentally unfit to stand trial.
Editing by Steve Gorman, Daniel Trotta and Xavier Briand