(AP) Giffords completes skydive on shooting anniversary
By BRIAN SKOLOFF and TERRY TANG
Gabrielle Giffords marked the third anniversary of being shot in the head at a Tucson political rally by skydiving on Wednesday, part of a stunning recovery that has included learning to walk and talk again and founding a national organization that pushes gun control measures.
Across the city, others gathered for bell-ringing and flag-raising ceremonies to remember the six killed and 13 injured, including Giffords, on Jan. 8, 2011, as the former Arizona congresswoman met with constituents outside a grocery store.
Giffords waved and blew kisses to a crowd at a skydiving site between Phoenix and Tucson after successfully landing without injury.
Jimmy Hatch, a former Navy SEAL who accompanied Giffords along with others, said the group held hands and formed a circle shortly after exiting the aircraft then made a line with Giffords in the middle.
Vice President Joe Biden’s office said he called Giffords on Wednesday to wish her good luck.
Giffords’ jump will be broadcast Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show.
In Tucson, about 100 residents attended a ceremony Wednesday morning outside the University of Arizona Medical Center, where the injured were treated. A bell was rung once for each victim as the Rev. Joe Fitzgerald spoke to the crowd.
Other ceremonies and moments of silence took place across the city.
Pam Simon, 66, who was a Giffords aide at the time of the attack and suffered a gunshot wound to the chest, reflected on the shooting with crisp memories, but also a positive outlook.
Giffords, meanwhile, 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 has struggled to bring about major change in its first year of existence, but the couple is confident they’ve laid the groundwork for success in future election cycles.
Giffords and Kelly formed their organization just weeks after the massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Since then, Congress has done nothing to tighten the nation’s gun laws. Some states, including Colorado and Delaware, pushed ahead with their own gun-control measures, while others like Arizona, Giffords’ home state, moved in the opposite direction, passing a law that requires municipalities to sell weapons surrendered at buyback programs instead of destroying them.
Kelly said his group raised more than $11 million between January 2013 and July 2013.
In an opinion piece for The New York Times on Wednesday, Giffords wrote about her struggles to recover, calling it “gritty, painful, frustrating work.”
Jared Lee Loughner was sentenced in November 2012 to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges in the shooting.
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, resigned from Congress.
Tang reported from Phoenix.