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Shooting victim was passionate about his work for congresswoman

Gabe Zimmerman, a member of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' Tucson staff, was at his best when helping her constituents.

January 09, 2011|By Seema Mehta
  • Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was killed Saturday in the Tucson mass shooting that targeted the congresswoman.
Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was killed Saturday… (Tory Anderson / Alliance…)

Reporting from Tucson — When Gabe Zimmerman visited Washington, D.C., in 2009 for President Obama's inauguration, he immersed himself in the monuments to American history, one of his passions.

"When we went to the Lincoln Memorial on a cold damp January morning, the wind whipped through the place and it was freezing cold, but Gabe had to read every single word of the Gettysburg Address," said C.J. Karamargin, a fellow staffer for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who worked alongside Zimmerman in the congresswoman's Tucson field office.

That kind of passion was evident in every aspect of Zimmerman's life — in his devotion to his job helping Giffords' constituents, his search for the perfect engagement ring for his fiancee, his newfound zeal for the Byzantine Empire, his hours spent on the Stairmaster at the gym.

"He put his all into his work, he put his all into his life," Karamargin said.

Zimmerman, 30, was among the six people killed when a gunman opened fire Saturday at Giffords' "Congresswoman on the Corner" meet-and-great with constituents, a regular event that Zimmerman helped organize.

He joined Giffords' first congressional campaign in 2006 and joined her staff the following year.

Zimmerman's mother, Emily Nottingham, speaking in her cozy Tucson living room, said it was no surprise when he joined Giffords' campaign, because it combined two of his passions.

"He's always been interested in government and politics, and it's a good mix of social service and policy," she said, adding that he most enjoyed helping constituents solve problems. "He was always a caring child. It was a good career for him."

After graduating from UC Santa Cruz with a bachelor's degree in sociology, Zimmerman worked for Arizona's Children, a treatment facility for troubled youth. Then he earned his master's in social work at Arizona State University in Tucson, and joined Giffords' staff. He relished his work, Nottingham said.

Karamargin said Zimmerman's background in social work made him a natural for dealing with constituents.

"Gabe was unfailingly patient with people. He presided over thousands of constituent cases," he said. "He was helping World War II vets get medals, people with Medicare benefits, veterans with benefits issues. These are the types of things day-in and day-out he did, and he was determined to just do the best he could. He worked hard, he really worked hard."

That determination was evident outside of the office as well.

"We belong to the same gym, and we would do the stair mill together and, you know, when we were done, I had a couple beads of sweat on my brow and Gabe was drenched," Karamargin said. "You could count the number of stories you climbed. I would do 132 in 30 minutes. Gabe was like 190. He was running up those steps."

In his off hours, Zimmerman ran marathons and had hiked across the Grand Canyon multiple times. He was engaged to be married to Katie O'Brien in 2012.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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