Thirty years ago next month, a crazed gunman attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan as he left the Washington Hilton Hotel. Our 40th president had been in the White House just 10 weeks at the time of the shooting.
No one could have predicted then that he would go on to become one of our most influential and beloved leaders.
That critical moment in our history came to mind earlier this month as I entered that same hotel with Capt. Mark Kelly, who was asked to give the closing prayer at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.
In the frantic hours after a gunman attempted to assassinate Capt. Kelly’s wife, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, no one could have foreseen that the response to such an unspeakable tragedy would represent such a triumph of hope and resolve.
On behalf of the congresswoman’s staff, I would like Arizona to know just how much that response means to us — and how determined we are to continue doing the work that she entrusts us to do.
On Jan. 8, just three days into her third term, Congresswoman Giffords became the first female elected official in American history to be the target of an assassination attempt.
The outpouring of positive thoughts, prayers and good deeds that followed the shooting was, in a word, overwhelming. It cut across all lines. Party affiliation didn’t matter. Political ideology was irrelevant. Old rivalries were set aside.
This is exactly the way Congresswoman Giffords has approached her job representing the men and women of Arizona’s 8th Congressional District. And that is exactly the way she’ll continue to approach it once she returns to work.
Congresswoman Giffords is a fighter, make no mistake about that. Those of us who work for her have no doubt about what she’s made of. She’s the strongest person we know. And while we also know that this will be a tough fight, we are convinced that Gabby is as tough as they come.
Over the past four years, Southern Arizonans have on numerous occasions witnessed the kind of grit and determination that characterizes their congresswoman. They watched her stand firm before loud, hostile crowds at health care town halls. They saw her push relentlessly for $600 million in emergency border security funding – funding that repeatedly had fallen prey to partisan politics
And they know she always has been — and always will be — one of the most open and accessible members of Congress.
The horrifying events of that bright Saturday morning will forever be remembered as one of our nation’s darkest moments. The attack on an elected representative of the people was, as President Obama suggested, an attack on “the essence of what our democracy is all about.”
Compounding our grief is the senseless loss of Christina-Taylor Green, Dorwan Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck, Dorothy Morris, Judge John Roll and my colleague, Gabe Zimmerman. For their families and friends, and for the 13 who were wounded, life will never be the same.
It has been helpful for the congresswoman’s staff to confront this “new normal” by quickly returning to work. Congresswoman Giffords’ offices in Tucson, Sierra Vista and Washington opened as usual on Monday, Jan. 10 because that is exactly what she wants.
We’ve already achieved notable successes. Last week, we were able to help two veterans to get the service medals they never received and assist a Tucson woman flee Cairo as the city erupted in riots. This is the work we do all the time.
And more is in the works. This week, Congress is moving forward with legislation to name the federal courthouse in Yuma after Judge Roll. Next month, we plan to host an event with the Red Cross to train people in basic first aid.
At the National Prayer Breakfast last week, Capt. Kelly suggested that maybe something good can come of the tragedy. I believe it already has. And — to borrow some of President Reagan’s limitless optimism — there’s every reason to think it will continue.
Pia Carusone is chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.