Image: Shelby Garner places a flower on a makeshift memorial
Kevork Djansezian  /  Getty Images
Shelby Garner places a flower on a makeshift memorial set up at the site of a mass shooting in front of the Safeway grocery store in the La Toscana Village parking lot as her sons Zach Gemmill, right, and Kole Gemmill, middle, look on. The supermarket re-opened on Saturday one week after U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head and remains in critical condition.
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updated 1/16/2011 7:28:02 PM ET 2011-01-17T00:28:02

The harrowing first week is over. Now as the national focus drifts away and a quietness returns to this laid-back college city, the profound pain is settling in as victims of last weekend's shooting spree — and their tight-knit community — enter the toughest part of their healing process.

There are the parents who lost their 9-year-old daughter. A wife who will live with the haunting memory of her husband's dying moments, filled with her loving whispers after he used his body to shield her from the bullets. A 20-year-old intern for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords stamped with the mental images of holding her to his chest and trying to stop the bleeding after a bullet passed through her head.

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And then there's the city of Tucson, a picturesque desert community of sun-bronzed university students, retirees and artists that prides itself on being open-minded now linked to a heinous crime.

"I happened to get hit by bullets and all of you, especially those who were there, you got wounded too," said Giffords' aide Pam Simon, 63, who was shot twice, as she met with survivors, witnesses and community members.

The months to come will determine the lasting impact of those wounds, not only for the residents of Tucson but the country itself, which has spent a week reflecting on how its divisive political atmosphere, angry rhetoric and loose gun laws might have intersected with a dangerously mentally ill young man in Tucson.

Story: Giffords 'continues to make progress', husband tweets

And what of suspected gunman Jared Loughner's parents, who have remained secluded in their modest home, issuing only a brief statement expressing sorrow? Questions as to why he fired on the crowd that Jan. 8 morning may never be fully answered.

"This was a combat situation that hit people not prepared for combat," said Dr. Paul Ragan, a Vanderbilt University expert on gunshot victims. "There really is this profound assault on one's own sense of certainty in life and safety."

Survivors have found a sense of peace from the community's overwhelming support, rolling their wheelchairs past the cards, candles, and flowers blanketing the hospital lawn.

They also are consoled by the moments of human goodness — the heroic feat of the men who tackled the gunman, the woman who grabbed his empty magazine and the strangers who scampered under the hail of gunfire to help the wounded.

Most uplifting has been the remarkable recovery so far of Giffords, who opened her eyes, grabbed her husband's arm and appeared to try to hug him Wednesday night after President Barack Obama visited her hospital room.

Many of the 13 victims have undergone multiple surgeries and face months, possibly years, of physical therapy.

Survivors recognize the body often heals more quickly than the mind.

"The wounds in our heart are a lot, lot deeper," Simon said. "They aren't going to heal in a long time."

Jenny Douglas, the daughter of Giffords' aide Ron Barber, 65, who was shot three times, said her father "remembers it all, very clearly."

Mavy Stoddard, 75, who was shot in the leg three times, also remembers. Her husband, Dorwin, 76, dove to the ground and covered her when the shooting started. She talked to him for 10 minutes, while he breathed heavily after being shot in the head. Then his breathing stopped. The two grade school sweethearts had lost contact and then found each other again after both retired in Tucson, falling in love.

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Steve Siegel, of the Denver District Attorney's office, has seen the long-term fallout after helping people in the aftermath of the country's most horrific crimes — from the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing to the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

Some have been unable to function, losing jobs, turning to alcohol and drugs, even attempting suicide. Every time a tragedy occurs somewhere it can trigger their traumatic feelings — an actual chemical response in their bodies.

Trauma, he says, acts like a stone dropped in water, rippling out far beyond the crime scene: Within 48 hours of the Columbine massacre, all youth beds at mental health facilities across Colorado were filled. Many were teens shaken by the news clips of the chaos.

More than two years later, some 600 people were still seeking help to cope, said Bill Woodward of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Doctors say some of the victims could experience a near-constant mental replaying of the attack outside the Safeway grocery store that left six dead. They may develop irrational fears, worrying obsessively that Loughner could escape and harm them again. A few might find they can't even drive past any Safeway.

When Bill Hileman went to see his wife Susan in the hospital after the shooting he found her in a morphine-induced haze, screaming out: "Christina! Christina! Let's get out of here. Let's get out of here.'"

Video: New details on Ariz. shooting video (on this page)

Susan Hileman, 58, was holding the hand of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the youngest of those killed, as they waited to see Giffords when the shooting erupted.

In a disturbing turn of events involving another shooting victim, J. Eric Fuller, 63, was arrested Saturday after allegedly making threatening comments at an ABC News forum to which he'd been invited. Authorities said Fuller, a military veteran, would be "involuntarily committed" for mental health evaluation after confronting a local tea party official with the words, "You're dead."

A team of psychiatrists and social workers is working to counsel the patients and their families.

"We've got to bring them back as a whole human being," said the victims' chief trauma doctor, Dr. Peter Rhee, who has treated soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Countless others may need the help, too: There are those who escaped the gunfire unscathed, the police officers and emergency crews who witnessed the carnage, the Safeway workers, the neighbors and friends of both the victims and the assailant, and the community as a whole.

Vicky Dotson, 38, watched her 11-year-old daughter, Emmalee, place pebbles on the ground to leave a message outside Christina's funeral service: "Forever Young, Christina. Never Forget. 9/11/01-1/8/11" and wondered how to explain it all.

"You kind of wait for them to ask questions, if they have questions. They obviously know it's a bad thing," she said. "Beware of your surroundings, that's one of the first things I told her."

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Emmalee swam with Christina on the YMCA swim team but did not know her well. Still, her death has affected her in unexpected ways.

"I've just been scared going out and it's just been sad," said Emmalee, adding that she's also had bad dreams.

Christina's father, John Green, told the Boston Globe that some of his daughter's organs had been donated to a Boston area girl, news that "really lifted" the family's spirits.

There are many keys to solace and recovery, experts say.

"In a lot of ways you don't really know what the overall impact is for a very long time," said the University of Colorado's Woodward. "You don't know what the impact was on the community as a whole."

The same is true of the political process, he said. "How many people are still going to be wanting to go to political events? What kind of security is there going to be there?"

So far officeholders and constituents outside Arizona appear to be emboldened by the tragedy. Less than a week after the shooting at Giffords' public "Congress on Your Corner" meet-and-greet, similar gatherings across the country resumed under greater police presence, drawing large crowds.

Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley called her Las Vegas office's open house a stand against violence, noting America's political climate is at a crossroads.

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"The reality is, we haven't been behaving very well as leaders of our nation," Berkley told The Associated Press. "I hope this is a turning point."

Obama, at Wednesday night's memorial service, implored a divided America to honor the victims by becoming a better country.

That may be easier said than done, as even the memorial where Obama spoke produced controversy, with some conservatives insisting it appeared to be an event scripted by the White House. Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs denied that, and the University of Arizona said it had done the planning.

Political scientist Dan Shea says ideological blogs, cable news, radio shows and other mediums are wrapping voters in a "partisan cocoon." That's not going away, but he is optimistic lessons will be learned from the shooting.

"I think people will be watching elected officials more closely," said Shea, of the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa. "I think it will hold them accountable for their rhetoric and that we'll celebrate those who are passionate but also respectful in their discourse and punish those who cross the line."

There is a long journey of healing ahead.

_______

Gillian Flaccus and Pauline Arrillaga in Tucson and Cristina Silva in Las Vegas contributed to this report. Watson reported from Phoenix, Chang from Tucson.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Seeking comfort amid tragedy, Tucson joins together

Photos: Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

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  1. A hearse carrying the remains of U.S. District Judge John Roll arrives at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church before his funeral on in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Jan. 14. Roll was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting that left six dead and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (Morry Gash / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mary Kool holds a single red rose outside the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll was to take place. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mourners arrive at the funeral service of Judge Roll. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A flag recovered from ground zero is raised during funeral service for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson, on Thursday, Jan. 13. Green was the youngest victim of the shooting rampage. Green was born on Sept. 11, 2001. (Mamta Popat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Left to right, Roxanna and John Green, mother and father of Christina Taylor Green, and their son Dallas Green, arrive at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for her funeral in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 2,000 mourners were in attendance at the funeral of Christina Taylor Green on Thursday in Tucson. (Mamta Popat  / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. People dressed as angels line the street leading to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral for Christina Taylor Green was to take place in Tucson on Thursday. Hundreds, dressed in white, lined the streets for more than a quarter mile of the funeral procession. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. John Green kisses his son Dallas on the head as the family follows the casket of Christina Taylor Green at her funeral mass in Tucson, on Thursday. At left is Christina's mother Roxanna and at right is Camden Grant, Christina's godmother's son. (Rick Wilking / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A young mourner carries flowers and a teddy bear to the funeral of Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cindy and John McCain listen during the funeral service for shooting victim Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Greg Bryan / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman holds the service program from the funeral for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green outside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson on Thursday. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Arizona's McKale Memorial Center during the memorial service for victims of the shootings in Tucson. Obama told the crowd on Wednesday, Jan. 12, that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot in the head during the attack on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 13 wounded by the lone gunman. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Daniel Hernandez , the 20-year-old intern credited with likely saving the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, hugs her husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama applauds. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. First lady Michelle Obama holds the hand of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as they listen to President Barack Obama speak. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. People sing the national anthem during the memorial service on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the start of the memorial event. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. People line up at the University of Arizona campus for the memorial service. (David Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Barb Tuttle is overcome with emotion at a makeshift memorial outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Jan. 12 in Tucson. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Women waiting in line for the memorial service look at the campus paper at the University of Arizona. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, holds his wife's hand in the congresswoman's hospital room at University Medical Center on Jan. 9. (Offiice Of Gabrielle Giffords / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Ron Barber, 65, district director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is visited by Giffords aide Daniel Hernandez in his hospital room on Jan. 9. Hernandez rushed to Gifford's aid after she was shot. Hernandez said that while he held the wounded Giffords, he asked another bystander to put pressure on Barber's wounds. He also asked Barber for his wife's phone number and then shouted it out to someone so that Barber's wife, Nancy, could be informed of the shooting. (Gabrielle Giffords' Office / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama observe a moment of silence with White House staff members on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Jan. 10. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Congressional staff observe a moment of silence to honor victims of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. (Michael Reynolds / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Rachel Cooper-Blackmore, 9, adds a note to a memorial at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, on Jan. 10. Christina Taylor Green, 9, was killed during the Tucson attack. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Rachel Crabb, 5, holds hands with teachers, parents and other students during a moment of silence for her slain schoolmate, Christina Taylor Green, at Mesa Verde Elementary School on Jan. 9. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Candles are lit on Sunday at a makeshift memorial outside University Medical Center in Tuscon, Ariz., for those killed or wounded during the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords . (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Ellie Steve, 6, from left, Lucia Reeves, 6, and Zoe Reeves, 18, gather for a candlelight vigil outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., on Sunday. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Six balloons representing the six people killed in Saturday's shooting spree, as part of a prayer vigil.Rep. Gabrielle Giffords battled for her life on Sunday after an assailant shot her in the head and killed six others in a rampage that has launched a debate about extreme political rhetoric in America. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. People console each other at a makeshift memorial located outside the University Medical Center on Jan. 9 in Tucson, Ariz. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. The American flag flies at half-staff on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 9. In a brief statement Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner said flags on the House side of the Capitol in Washington will be flown at half-staff to honor the slain aide, Gabe Zimmerman, of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Thirty-year-old Zimmerman was among six killed Saturday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. The congregation prays for the victims of Saturday's shooting in Tuscon, at the Pantano Christian Church in East Tucson, Jan. 9. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Monty Edmonds, 36, left, of Tucson; Maggie Kipling, 34, of Tucson; Leigh Harris, 50, of Phoenix; Bella Furr, 21, of Tucson; and Sarah Herrmann, 22, of Tucson participate in a vigil at University Medical Center for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot during an event in front of a Safeway grocery store Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Laura Segall / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Emergency personnel use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson on Saturday. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Ernie Freuler fights back tears as Ray Lilley takes photos of the scene outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head by a gunman who opened fire outside a grocery store, Saturday, Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A law enforcement officer stands outside the home of Jared L. Loughner, identified by federal officials as the suspect arrested in connection with the shooting of U.S Representative Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. People gather for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting in Arizona at the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Saturday Jan. 8. (Jose Luis Magana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Vera Rapcsak and others hold signs outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday after she was shot while meeting constituents. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 8, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot as the congresswoman was meeting with constituents. Rep. Giffords, 40, a Democrat, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. The gunman shot Giffords in the head, seriously wounding her, and killed six other people in a shooting rampage at a public meeting in Tucson on Saturday. Giffords was airlifted to a hospital in Tucson where she underwent surgery. One of the doctors who treated her said he was optimistic about her recovery. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A woman places flowers by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday after she was shot in Tucson by a gunman who opened fire, killing six people, including a U.S. district judge, John M. Roll. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. In this photo provided by The White House, President Barack Obama talks with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer about the shooting. (Pete Souza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Emergency personnel at the scene where Giffords and others were shot outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson on Saturday. (Matt York / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Law enforcement personnel work the crime scene on Saturday. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A medical helicopter evacuates victims from the shooting scene. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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