TUCSON, Ariz. – Former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords spent part of the fourth year anniversary of the mass shooting that left her gravely wounded meeting with President Barack Obama as her city paused to remember the tragedy that left six dead and 13 injured.
Nineteen solemn bells rang Thursday morning to honor the victims of a shooting in Tucson at a political event hosted by Giffords.
Giffords did not attend the event but met with Obama during his visit to Phoenix.
“It was four years ago today that Gabby and some other wonderful Arizonans were gunned down outside a supermarket in Tucson. It’s a tough day for a lot of folks down there. We keep them in our thoughts and prayers,” Obama said.
“She’s a hero, and she’s a great Arizonan. So we’re really proud of her,” he said.
The ceremony in Tucson took place at 10:10 a.m. and included a bell-ringing for each of the 19 victims of the attack. Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild also hosted a bell-ringing ceremony at a fire station downtown.
“I think it’s important that we never forget what happened because there are a lot of lessons that can be learned from what happened,” said former Arizona Rep. Ron Barber, who was wounded in the shooting and who attended the ceremony.
Giffords did not participate in any public events but posted messages on her verified Twitter account.
“Since I was shot four years ago today, it’s been step by step. Progress has come from working hard,” Giffords wrote. “Today, I remember, and I take another step. We have to move ahead.”
Peter Rhee, chief of the trauma department at the University of Arizona Medical Center, is the doctor credited with saving the lives of Giffords and others.
Standing outside the hospital Thursday, Rhee said he was changed by that day and thinks about it often. But he said many positive things came of the tragedy.
“The discussion on gun control is much higher on a national level. We can’t just keep going on like this,” Rhee said.
The Jan. 8, 2011, shooting shook Tucson, a city that considers itself a tight-knit community despite its half-million residents. Among those killed was 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, whose face adorns many of the memorial messages left at the shooting site and the hospital.
U.S. District Judge John Roll and Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman also were killed. Barber, who worked for Giffords at the time, was wounded but later took over her seat in Congress.
Jared Loughner was sentenced to life in prison for the shooting.
Giffords, who was shot in the head, still struggles to speak and walk. She has become the face of gun control, having founded Americans for Responsible Solutions with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.
In the 2014 election, the gun control group raised millions for congressional candidates, including Barber, who lost his seat to Republican Martha McSally. The group has garnered attention nationwide but has been able to do little to change gun laws.
Organizers with the January 8th Memorial, a nonprofit foundation, are in the final phase of selecting a designer for a permanent memorial. The foundation hopes to finish the memorial this year, manager Michelle Crow said. It will be at El Presidio Park in downtown Tucson, but there are plans for other exhibits.
Items from memorials left at the shooting site and the hospital are on display in two rooms at the Arizona History Museum in Tucson. The exhibit began in October and ends Friday.