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Despite tragedy, it's back to work for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' staff

With memorials inside and out, Gabrielle Giffords' district office in Tucson is somber after the lawmaker was severely wounded in a shooting attack. But the congresswomen 'would not want us to stop what we do,' a spokesman says.

January 10, 2011|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Tucson — U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' staff briefly considered shuttering their Tucson district field office in the aftermath of the mass shooting that left the congresswoman in critical condition, killed her director of community outreach and wounded two colleagues.

But they couldn't do it.

"Congresswoman Giffords would not want us to stop what we do, and that's why the decision was made to open as normal at 8 a.m.," said spokesman C.J. Karamargin. "Obviously, the circumstances are anything but normal."

The district office, tucked into a pink stucco office building with a number of businesses, was quiet and somber Monday. Outside, a memorial stretched across the rocky landscape, a collection of flowers, candles, Native American dream catchers and red University of Arizona baseball caps. Handwritten signs read "Sad and heartbroken in Tucson! Pray for Gabby & all others," "Let there be peace on Earth … And let it begin with us," and "We condemn violence."

Volunteers, sitting at a U.S.-flag-draped table, handed out cards on which constituents could write messages to Giffords and her staff. A sign noted that packages could not be accepted for security reasons, and urged donations to be made to the Tucson Community Food Bank and the local chapter of the American Red Cross, two of Giffords' favorite charitable organizations, according to husband Mark Kelly, an astronaut.

"Many of you have offered help," he said in a statement. "There is little we can do but pray for those who are struggling. If you are inspired to make a positive gesture, consider two organizations that Gabby has long valued and supported."

In the morning, as President Obama led a national moment of silence from Washington, the staff gathered in the office's lobby, joined by former colleagues, volunteers, interns, community members and Giffords' sister. Dozens filled the small space.

"You could hear a pin drop," Karamargin said. "It was very emotional to think that the president of the United States of America and the first lady were leading our nation in a moment of silence for our boss. It's very hard."

A community member then played the national anthem on a trumpet outside, near a bubbling water fountain.

And then it was on to work.

The district office's large meeting room now featured two large blow-up pictures at its head -- a group picture at a 2009 Christmas party, the staffers beaming with their arms strung around each other, and a portrait of Giffords.

As residents trickled in to offer their condolences, staff members continued working on constituent cases, including an Iraq war veteran's disability claim, which had not been acted on in eight months. The staffers decided to file a congressional inquiry on his behalf.

Dave Locke, 50, of Tucson dropped by to write a message to the congresswoman: "We are praying for you."

He said he had known Giffords and her staff for many years and they had helped him qualify for city housing and disability.

"Gabby was always one that would stand out and fight for you, regardless of what side of the fence you were on," said Locke, who is awaiting a liver transplant. "She would sit there and take your position and make a case for you."

"I had to come here," he added. "This is just a horrific time in our nation, where we all need to pull together and stop the violence, stop the hatred, stop the bickering."

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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