Video: Hospital memorial becomes Tucson’s place of solace

Image: Mark Kelly and Gabrielle Giffords
U.S. Rep. Giffords' office
Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, has remained by her bedside. Kelly is seen holding his wife's hand in the congresswoman's hospital room at University Medical Center on Jan. 9.
NBC News and news services
updated 1/17/2011 6:55:45 AM ET 2011-01-17T11:55:45

In yet another sign of significant recovery during a remarkable week, the gravely wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was upgraded from critical to serious condition Sunday after a procedure to remove her from a ventilator was successful.

Doctors have been positive, and at times almost giddy, in describing her progress since she was shot point blank in the head Jan. 8.

Giffords responded from the moment she arrived at the emergency room, at first just squeezing a doctor's hand. Then she raised two fingers. She opened her unbandaged eye shortly after President Barack Obama's bedside visit Wednesday. Then, more milestones — which doctors said were all indicative of higher cognitive function — were achieved, all with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at her side.

Story: Loners like Tucson gunman 'fly below the radar'

Kelly asked her to give him a thumbs-up if she could hear him. She did more than that. She slowly raised her left arm. By the end of the week, she had moved her legs and arms.

Early Monday, Kelly posted an update on his Twitter account.

"As my wonderful wife @Rep_Giffords continues to make progress, let us all pause and reflect on this MLK day," it read.

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At the hospital, more than 100 people were gathered amid the sea of get-well balloons and cards when the University of Arizona put out a statement upgrading her condition.

"Oh, that's great news," said Jean Emrick, a 50-year resident of Tucson, as a violinist played in the background.

Her eyes watering, Emrick said: "Tucson is such a special place and she represents what's the best of southern Arizona."

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As night fell, candles at the makeshift memorial began to flicker. A mariachi band played the "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Few survive bullet to the brain
Doctors decided to upgrade her condition because the tracheotomy done a day earlier was uneventful, hospital spokeswoman Katie Riley said. A feeding tube was also put in Saturday, and doctors speculated that they might soon know if she could speak.

Few people survive a bullet to the brain — just 10 percent — and some who do end up in a vegetative state. It is even more rare for people with gunshot wounds to the head to regain all of their abilities, and doctors have cautioned that the full extent of Giffords' recovery remains uncertain.

Giffords and 18 others were shot when a gunman opened fire at a meet-and-greet she was hosting outside a supermarket in her own hometown. Six people died, including Giffords' popular community outreach director, Gabe Zimmerman.

At funeral services for Zimmerman Sunday, Kelly told the some 700 people gathered that his wife was inspired Zimmerman's idealism and warmth, according to the Arizona Republic.

"Gabby and I spoke often about Gabe. She loved him like a younger brother," Kelly said. "I know someday she'll get to tell you herself how she felt about Gabe."

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Meanwhile, a week after the Tucson supermarket massacre, more details emerged about one of shooting victims who police said became distraught and was arrested during a televised town hall meeting.

James Eric Fuller, a self-described liberal and military veteran, started ranting at the end of the program Saturday. He took a picture of a local tea party leader and yelled "you're dead" before calling others in the church a bunch of "whores," authorities said.

Deputies called a doctor and decided he should be taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation, said Pima County sheriff's spokesman Jason Ogan said.

No one answered the door Sunday at Fuller's home.

In media interviews and on the Internet, Fuller, a former limousine driver and Census worker, has said he worked hard to get Giffords re-elected in her conservative-leaning district. He was going over questions he had prepared for the congresswoman, when the shooting began, he said in an interview with the television show "Democracy Now."

He was shot in the knee and back and drove himself to the hospital, where he spent two days.
"I didn't know how to calm myself down," he said on the TV show, "so I wrote down the Declaration of Independence, which I memorized some time ago. And that did help to organize my thoughts."

Video: Giffords ‘making progress every day,’ says Gillibrand (on this page)

He also lashed out at conservative Republicans for "Second Amendment activism," arguing it set the stage for the shooting.

Fuller returned to the Safeway supermarket Friday, telling KPHO-TV he had always considered trauma a figment of imagination until the events of Jan. 8.

"Today I'm back on my feet, more or less, and I'm in a combative mood," Fuller said as he limped across the store parking lot. "It's helping me. I've never had any trauma like this in my life."

Later, he showed up at the home of accused gunman Jared Loughner, who lived within a half-mile of Fuller.

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"He said he was going to forgive him for shooting him," Richard Elder, 86, a retired medical mechanic who lives next door to Fuller, told The Associated Press Sunday. "If anyone shot me, I don't think I'd say, 'Hey feller, that's alright.'"

Fuller posted about eight campaign signs in front of his house during the last election, including one for Giffords. And although Fuller was friendly, he acted odd sometimes, Elder said. Once, Fuller asked him if he was going to vote.

"I told him there are two things I don't talk about: politics or religion. I told him that, and he walked off without another word."

He said Fuller had shown him his bullet wounds and seemed to be dealing with the shooting well.

The man Fuller is accused of threatening, Tucson Tea Party co-founder Trent Humphries, said he was worried about the threat, and the dozens of other angry e-mails he has received.

"I had nothing to do with the murders that happened or the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords," said Humphries, who was on his way Sunday to attend services for his friend Dorwan Stoddard, 76. "And I wonder, if he (Fuller) is crazy or is he the canary in a coal mine? Is he saying what a lot of other people are holding in their hearts? If so, that's a problem."

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At the Safeway, the flowers, teddy bears, candles and cards were growing.

Eduardo Ibarola sat quietly off to the side with a colorful beaded rosary in his hand. He had been praying all week but drove from Phoenix with his 5-year-old grandson to set his heart right.

"We came just so I could say my rosary. All I want is for those upstairs to hear my prayers," Ibarola said, adding that he had been thinking all week about the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green.

Video: Rep. Giffords’ aide laid to rest in Tucson (on this page)

The girl's father told The Boston Globe some of her organs were donated to a young girl in the area there, but he didn't have any other details.

He said they were once again proud of their daughter, "who has done another amazing thing."

NBC News and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photos: Former Ariz. Representative Gabrielle Giffords

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  1. Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman who was shot and left handicapped after a gunman opened fire at an event in Tucson, Ariz., and her husband retired Navy Capt. Mark Kelly prepare to testify before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 2013. (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, leave the Newtown Municipal Building in Newtown, Conn. on Jan. 4, 2013. Giffords met with Newtown officials on Friday afternoon before heading to visit with families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. (Michelle Mcloughlin / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Gabrielle Giffords waves to the Space Shuttle Endeavor with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly as it flies over Tucson, Ariz. on its way to Los Angeles, on Sept. 20, 2012. Kelly served as Endeavour's last space commander months after Giffords survived serious head injuries because of a 2011 shooting. (P.K. Weis / Southwest Photo Bank via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Gabrielle Giffords blows a kiss after reciting the Pledge of Allegiance during the final session of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. on Sept. 6, 2012. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Gabrielle Giffords stands on top of a peak in the French Alps with her husband Mark Kelly, right,, and mountain guide Vincent Lameyre, July 23, 2012. On her first trip out of the country since her injury in 2011, she rode a two-stage cable car to a station for spectacular views of Mont Blanc. (Denis Balibouse / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Ron Barber, right, celebrates his victory with Giffords, left, prior to speaking to supporters at a post election event, Tuesday, June 12, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Barber, Giffords' former district director, won her seat in a special election after she resigned to focus on her recovery. (Ross D. Franklin / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Democratic Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, read Rep. Gabriell Giffords resignation speech on the House floor on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012. The day after President Obama's State of the Union speech, Giffords formally offered her resignation to Speaker John Boehner. Weeping, Shultz applauded the strength of her friend and colleague, "I'm so proud of my friend." (MSNBC) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. President Barack Obama hugs retiring Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as the president arrives to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., left, and Pelosi, right, posing with Giffords husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly of the Navy, at his retirement ceremony with Vice President Joe Biden in the Old Executive Office Building on the White House complex in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011. (House Leader Nancy Pelosi's office / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returns to the House for the first time since she was shot, making a dramatic entrance on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, during a crucial debt vote. She drew loud applause and cheers from surprised colleagues. (NBC News) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords poses for a photo the day after the launch of NASA space shuttle Endeavour and the day before she had her cranioplasty surgery, outside TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital May 17, in Houston, Texas. Aides of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords posted two recent photos of the congresswoman to her public Facebook page, the first since the January 8 shooting that killed six people and wounded a dozen others. (P.K. Weis / Giffords Campaign / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emergency workers use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. In this Jan. 5, 2011 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner re-enacts the swearing in of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Rep. Giffords, left, speaks during a candidates debate with Republican candidate Jesse Kelly at the University of Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., on Oct. 18, 2010. Kelly is an Iraq War veteran and was the Tea Party favorite for the 8th congressional district seat. (Joshua Lott / The New York Times via Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords meets with constituents in Douglas, Ariz., in 2010. Giffords, 40, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Rep. Giffords speaks during a press conference in Washington, D.C., where members of Congress called on the President to secure the border with the National Guard on April 28, 2010. (James Berglie / Zuma Press) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. This picture provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Monday, March 22, 2010, shows damage to her office in Tucson, Ariz. The congressional office was vandalized a few hours after the House vote overhauling the nation's health care system. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., center, gives a tour of Statuary Hall in the Capitol to Shuttle Discovery STS-124 astronauts Mission Specialist Akihiko Hoshide, of Japan, and her husband, Commander Mark Kelly, on Thursday, July 17, 2008. (Bill Clark / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. From right. Rep. Ken Calvert, Rep. Dennis Moore, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and Rep. Heath Shuler, attend a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing on current and proposed employment eligibility verification systems on May 6, 2008. The hearing provided a forum for lawmakers on both sides of the immigration debate, focusing on a system to verify the legal status of workers and job applicants. (Scott J. Ferrell) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Gabrielle Giffords with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Mark Kelly, a NASA astronaut, at their wedding in Amado, Ariz., on Nov. 10, 2007. Kelly's twin brother, also an astronaut, is a commander on the International Space Station. "We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station. As I look out the window, I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful. Unfortunately, it is not," said Scott Kelly of the tragedy that befell his sister-in-law. (Norma Jean Gargasz for The New York Times / Redux Pictures) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Representatives-elect including Dean Heller, top right, and Gabrielle Giffords, next to Heller, prepare for the freshman class picture for the 110th Congress on the House Steps on Nov. 14, 2006. (Tom Williams / Roll Call Photos) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords rides horseback in 2006. In an interview with NPR last year, she recalled working with horses during her adolescence in Tucson. "I loved cleaning out the stalls, and I did that in exchange for riding lessons. And I continue to ride most of my life. And I learned a lot from horses and the stable people ... I think it provided good training, all of that manure-shoveling, for my days in politics ahead." (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A page entitled, "Just do it!" in La Semeuse, the Scripps College yearbook in 1993. The photo at right shows Giffords in traditional Mennonite clothing. That same year, she won a Fulbright award to study Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups in Northern Mexico. Gifford's senior thesis was titled "Wish Books and Felt-Tipped Fantasies: The Sociology of Old Colony Mennonite Drawings." (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Gabrielle Giffords' senior portrait from the 1993 Scripps College yearbook. Giffords double-majored in Latin American studies and sociology. A Dean's List student, Gifford won several awards during her time at Scripps. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Gabrielle Giffords, right, laughs with her mom, Gloria Kay Fraser Giffords, in a photo published in the Scripps College yearbook. Gabrielle received a B.A. in Sociology and Latin American history from Scripps College in Claremont, Calif. in 1993. (Scripps College) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. University High School portrait of Gabrielle Giffords, class of 1988. Dr. John Hosmer, taught history to the future lawmaker. He tells msnbc.com, "Gabrielle sat in the front row. She was inquisitive ... She was a very mature person from the moment she walked in the door." (University High School) Back to slideshow navigation
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