Book Excerpt: They Call Me a Hero

In this excerpt from his new book, the gay intern who worked for Rep. Gabby Giffords recounts the day the congresswoman was shot and how he stepped up to help save her life.



(left: Giffords and Hernandez after the shooting)


Meanwhile, at the back of the line, I checked in Bill Badger, a retired army colonel. Although he was a Republican and Gabby was a Democrat, he admired her and knew she would answer his questions.

I had just checked in Bill Badger when I heard what I thought was gunfire. It was 10:10 a.m. For about half a second I thought, Oh, maybe it’s fireworks. Then I heard someone say, “Gun!”

Stop the Bleeding
There was blood everywhere. Bodies on the ground. Screams. As I rushed toward the sidewalk in front of the market, I passed the gunman. I saw him shooting with a pistol. He was running away through the entry line we had set up outside, and I was running through the exit. The whole time he was continuing to fire into the line of people who were there to see Congresswoman Giffords. He was indiscriminately shooting.

I’m big, but I didn’t think of tackling him. In that split second I figured it was more useful to go to the front, where people had been injured, than to try to stop him. I didn’t know how many weapons he had, and I didn’t know how many rounds he had left in his magazine. It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help. I had limited medical training in high school and knew that people could bleed out in seconds from gunshot wounds. When I went to the front, it wasn’t just to find Gabby; it was to find out who was injured. I knew that Gabe and other staffers were in the vicinity too.

I checked for pulses in the two victims closest to me. First the neck, then the wrist. Gabe Zimmerman was dead. Ron Barber was on the ground bleeding. He was still conscious, and he was in shock and in a lot of pain. Ron had been shot in the leg and the face. But even at this moment he was asking me to move on and check others who needed more help. “Make sure you stay with Gabby,” he said. “Make sure you go help Gabby.”

I moved from person to person checking pulses. The first rule in a trauma situation is you do what you can and move on. Ron was in serious condition but not as serious as the congresswoman, who had been shot in the head and was still alert and conscious.

I saw Gabby. At first it looked as though she might be in a defensive position. I had hoped that she had been uninjured, but as I got closer, I saw that she had fallen and was lying on the sidewalk bleeding from a head wound. I quickly started looking around her body to see if there were any other visible injuries. Seeing none, I applied pressure to the entry wound on her forehead with my bare hand.

I pulled Gabby into my lap and helped her sit upright so that she wouldn’t choke on her own blood. She was still alert and she was still conscious. That was a good sign. Her eyes were closed and she couldn’t talk, but she was moving her right hand and using that to respond. I wanted to make sure she knew what was going on around her. I let her know she had been shot in the head and that the authorities had been alerted. My main priority was to keep her engaged, keep her calm. I kept asking her questions like, “If you understand that the ambulance is coming, squeeze my hand.” And she squeezed my hand. I said, “We’re going to take you to the hospital. Everything’s going to be OK.”

While there was a lot of blood, it didn’t look like she had an arterial bleed. If she’d been bleeding from an artery, she could have lost a lot of blood in a very short amount of time. Her gunshot wound was through her brain. Not too much blood is lost in that kind of injury. I had learned this in high school when I’d trained to be a nursing assistant and phlebotomist. Although the subject of trauma injuries hadn’t been covered in my studies, I had had conversations about this topic with different doctors and people who worked in health care. I had asked questions about anything I thought was interesting.

So now I felt confident that I was doing the right thing for Gabby. After I had been with her for a minute or so, a couple who had been shopping in the market dashed out to help. He was a doctor and his wife was a nurse. They came over to me and checked really quickly to see what I was doing. Dr. Bowman told me to continue applying pressure to Gabby’s wound. “Don’t let her move around,” he said. “Keep doing what you’re doing.”

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