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.

BY Daniel Hernandez

February 05 2013 5:00 AM ET

The shooter had tried to reload, but a woman named Patricia Maisch had grabbed the clip. Roger Salzgeber, who’d been standing eight feet away from Gabby, and Bill Badger had wrestled the gunman to the ground and now held him there. I couldn’t see the gunman from where I was, but the shooting had obviously stopped. It lasted only 19 seconds, I learned later.

Pam Simon was dead. Someone looked her over and said, “She’s a goner.”

Sirens wailed. Minutes later police and paramedics arrived. The police secured the crime scene with yellow tape before they let the paramedics assist the victims. The police had to make sure there were no other assailants.

Gabby kept trying to move around. When the paramedics were finally allowed to come over to us, they asked me where Gabby had been shot and if there were any other injuries. There was one obvious gunshot wound to the head, but there wasn’t any other injury that we knew of. First they had to immobilize her neck. So while she was still in my lap, they put a neck brace on her. They wrapped an Israeli bandage, which was used to stop the bleeding, around her forehead. She still kept moving, so they asked me to hold the gauze in place until they could get more. Then they got a stretcher and put her on it. The paramedics wanted to wait for a helicopter. “What’s the ETA?” I asked. They said about 20 minutes. “We’ve got to get her out of here in the first ambulance,” I yelled at them. “She’s still alert and responding to commands.” Everyone was in shock. There was so much confusion that it helped that I yelled. No one was giving clear instructions. So the paramedics listened when I said, This is what we’re doing. I told them to take her to the hospital right away. I held her hand as they hurried her to the ambulance. “I’m going with her,” I said to the paramedics.

They told me they could take only family, but I pushed my way into the ambulance. Sirens screamed as we sped along.

Gabby was in a lot of pain. They were trying to get an IV started, but they couldn’t find a vein. They poked her repeatedly. She kept writhing around. I think having me there to calm her down helped the paramedics focus on their work. I was trying to figure out what I could do at that point. I told her we were going to try to get ahold of her husband, Captain Mark Kelly, and her parents, Gloria and Spencer Giffords. But I didn’t have Mark’s number or her family’s number. I had a new cell phone, and I hadn’t had a chance to put in numbers for people I would have normally called who were involved with the Democratic Party and knew Mark and Gabby.

The only one I could think of was Steve Farley. Steve is the state representative from District 28, Tucson, and I had worked as his campaign manager. I had become friends with Steve and his wife, Kelly, and his daughters, Amelia and GiGi. And he and Gabby were friends. So I called him before I called my parents, and told him what had happened. In the background I could hear Kelly and the girls laughing and saying hello; they were on their way to Kartchner Caverns State Park. I immediately told Steve, “Steve, shut up, stop talking. Gabby’s been shot. I’m in an ambulance with her. I need you to call Gloria and her husband. We are headed to UMC. HURRY.” I assumed we were going to the University Medical Center because it’s the only trauma center in the city of Tucson, and, in fact, all of southern Arizona.

Then I called my parents to let them know I hadn’t been injured, but I didn’t tell them anything besides that. I knew that they would be frightened, but I also knew that time was limited and it was more important for me to talk with Gabby to try to keep her calm on the way to the hospital. Keeping my parents and sisters informed was secondary to my job of tending to Gabby.

When we reached University Medical Center, the ambulance doors opened. The medical staff rushed Gabby into the hospital and told me to stand there and stay still. Sheriff’s deputies said, “Someone will be with you shortly.” They said I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone or use my cell phone or interact with anybody until the sheriff’s deputies questioned me.

People had started to gather to see what was happening. Media trucks began to arrive.

My clothes were covered in blood.


Excerpted from They Call Me A Hero: A Memoir of My Youth by Daniel Hernandez, with permission from Simon & Schuster.

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