TUCSON, Ariz. – For about 20 minutes, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ husband broke down in a plane’s bathroom after believing incorrect media reports that his wife had been fatally shot at a political event outside a supermarket.
Astronaut Mark Kelly said he had rushed aboard a friend’s plane to fly to Arizona after hearing of the shooting in Tucson, and that he saw the television report while en route .
“I just, you know, walked into the bathroom and you know, broke down,” Kelly told ABC television’s Diane Sawyer in an interview that aired Tuesday. “To hear that she died is just — it’s devastating for me.”
The astronaunt said he learned that she was alive when he called Giffords’ mother, who was outside the operating room at the hospital where the congresswoman was being treated. He has said that he called an ABC affiliate in Houston to correct reports of his wife’s death.
Giffords isn’t aware that six people died in the shooting, including Gabe Zimmerman, one of her staff members, Kelly said. Authorities say she was targeted by a 22-year-old constituent who had met her at a similar event in 2007.
The three-term Democrat was among 13 people who were also wounded in the massacre Jan. 8 outside a Safeway supermarket. She remained in serious condition after a bullet travelled the length of her brain.
Kelly told Sawyer that he was sure Giffords recognizes him at her hospital bed, since she has continued with a habit of playing with his wedding ring — moving it up and down his finger and sometimes putting it on her thumb.
“She’s done that before,” he said. “She’ll do that if we’re sitting in a restaurant. She’ll do the same exact movements.”
Meanwhile, Giffords’ staffers have kept her office running as their boss recovers. “That’s what Gabby would have wanted us to do,” spokesman Mark Kimble said.
The office is accustomed to dealing with turmoil; the location was vandalized in March hours after a House vote to overhaul the nation’s health care system. Someone either kicked in or shot out a glass door and a side window, and Giffords’ press secretary C.J. Karamargin said at the time staffers were shaken and worried.
Her staff said they know how much Giffords would want to be on the floor of Congress on Tuesday as lawmakers considered repealing the health care law that she passionately supported last year.
“She never wants to miss a day, she never wants to miss a vote,” Kimble said. “We all know that she really loves being there, but that’s out of our hands now.”
But her husband said he probably wouldn’t want Giffords to return to Congress.
“But I know that’s probably not going to matter to her. I think she’s such a devoted public servant that she’s going to come out of this and be more resolved to fix things,” he said.
The attempted assassination of Giffords has attributed to a softer tone in Congress and a call for more civilized political rhetoric that Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik blamed for the attack. Investigators have since said that the shooting suspect Jared Loughner is mentally unstable and was not apparently motivated by a partisan politics.
He remained in a federal jail in Phoenix as investigators try to figure out what prompted him to open fire at the event, where Giffords was meeting with constituents.
Kelly said he also didn’t believe the level of political debate was the reason behind Loughner’s alleged attack.
But he said he had spoken with Giffords many times about the risks of her job.
“She says, you know, ‘Someday I’m really worried that somebody’s going to come up to me at one of these events with a gun,'” he said.