Around the corner from an expanding shrine of flowers, balloons, and candles, the office of US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is open for business.
Just two days after the mass shooting left the Democratic congresswoman critically injured, her community outreach director dead, and two other employees hospitalized, the rest of Representative Giffords’s staff went back to work.
Trying to keep their emotions in check, they carry out the duties their boss was elected to do: helping the people she represents in Washington.
“It’s what she would want us to do,” says a somber Mark Kimble, one of Giffords’s staffers, who witnessed the shooting. “Her constituents are very important to her.”
The Tucson, Ariz., office has seven staffers at the moment, Mr. Kimble says, as well as numerous interns and volunteers. One main activity right now is assisting people who stop by to write notes of encouragement to the wounded.
But the work on behalf of constituents also goes on. Staffers just sent off a congressional inquiry into the disability claim of an Iraq war veteran who has waited eight months for a government response. It’s the kind of case that Gabriel Zimmerman – known as Gabe – would passionately dig into before gunfire ended his life Saturday at Giffords’s "Congress on Your Corner" event, his colleagues say.
A busy office has served as a source of relief for the staff, interns, and community members who are dealing with so much grief, says C.J. Karamargin, Giffords’s spokesman. “By being together, it’s made it a little bit easier,” he says.
Staffers and volunteers trickle in and out of a large conference room where residents drop off beverages, fruits, and other food. Visitors pause to admire an enlarged portrait of Giffords and another one of Mr. Zimmerman, who had been with Giffords since her first congressional campaign in 2006. A picture of Giffords and her staff, taken during the 2009 Christmas season, depicts happier days.
Reminders that times have changed are all around. A sign notes that packages cannot be accepted for security reasons. Several uniformed officers roam the building grounds.
But a violent act “will not deter us from doing the job that we do as public servants,” Mr. Karamargin says.
The willingness of Giffords’s staff to keep her office running while she fights for survival is a fitting tribute to her, some of her constituents say.
“It’s amazing that they’re back right now, but it’s what I expected,” says Carolina Shanks, who paid her respects at the shrine Wednesday along with her husband, Asa, and their boys, Nolyn and Cassius.
“If anybody knows her work style, it’s her staff,” adds Rose Audretsch. “She would want business to go on so people’s needs could be met.”
Ms. Audretsch was on a return visit to the makeshift memorial that honors Giffords, Zimmerman, and the other victims of the shooting that killed six people and wounded more than a dozen. Giffords’s two hospitalized staffers, Pam Simon and Ron Barber, are expected to recover. Doctors say the congresswoman is still critical but showing signs of improvement.
Audretsch couldn’t attend the Wednesday memorial for the victims that featured President Obama at the University of Arizona, so instead she was at the shrine and Giffords’s office. “I felt like this was the next best place for me to be,” she said.
By then, Giffords’s office had closed for the day, and staffers were preparing for the UA memorial.
A sign promised they would be back at 8 a.m.