Saturday’s news shook the country. An Arizona representative, Gabrielle Gifford, shot in the head in front of a Safeway in Tucson, first reported dead and then alive, but barely. A federal judge and a 9-year-old girl are among the dead. Many more were wounded in the shooting rampage.
Who could have done this? And why? As the shooter was identified, the political spin machines went into high gear. What political points could be scored off this tragedy? The focus became the shooter.
Not for me. I looked for the hero. In every one of these crazy deadly shooting sprees, there’s always someone who shows the kind of courage it’s hard to imagine.
Someone like 5 foot, 2 inch, 125 pound mother of two, Army police Sgt. Kimberley Munley, who responded to reports of shooting at the Army Readiness Center at Ft. Hood, Texas, a little more than two years ago. There, Maj. Hassan was methodically shooting soldiers preparing for deployment. Sgt. Munley exchanged gunfire with Hassan, wounding him and halting the attack. She was wounded in three places and survived.
Someone like math teacher David Benke who, although unarmed, tackled and subdued a 32-year-old shooter randomly shooting students on campus at Deer Creek Middle School in Littleton Colorado earlier in 2010.
There was a hero Saturday in front of that Arizona supermarket. He didn’t have a gun and didn’t shoot back, but it is said by witnesses he saved Gifford’s life.
Twenty-year-old Daniel Hernandez is a junior at the University of Arizona. He had signed up as an student intern in Gabrielle Gifford’s District office just five days before the shooting.
This was Hernandez’ first event staffing Gifford’s “Congress on Your Corner” constituent meeting. Hernandez was about 30 feet away from the representative, signing people in as they came up to see her. Then he heard the shots.
Then he ran, not away screaming as most people there understandably did, but toward the shots. “I don’t even know if the gunfire had stopped,” he recalled later to reporters from the Arizona Republic.
Dan Hernandez said, “Of course you’re afraid. You just have to do what you can.”
What Dan did was move from one wounded, bleeding, victim to another, checking for pulse. One man’s pulse had stopped. Then he saw Gifford, contorted and lying bleeding on the sidewalk. He ran to her. She was conscious but quiet, Dan later recalled.
He applied pressure with his hand to the entry wound in her head to stop the bleeding. Then he pulled her upright into his lap to prevent her choking on her own blood. Doctors attending Gifford at the hospital later credited these actions with saving her life.
Someone from inside the Safeway brought a clean smock from the meat department which Dan then used to apply pressure to the head wound. Ron Barber, Gifford’s district director, lay wounded next to Gifford. Dan instructed another person to apply pressure to Barber’s wounds. Barber told Dan, “Stay with Gabby.” So he did.
The paramedics arrived, strapped Gifford to a gurney and lifted her into an ambulance. Dan got in the ambulance beside her, holding her hand during the ride to the hospital.
At the hospital, the FBI took his blood-soaked clothes as evidence, as his family members arrived with fresh clothes. Dan stayed at the hospital, through the early reporting that the congresswoman had died to later reports that she clung to life.
“I was ecstatic,” he said of the news that she was still alive. “She’s a fighter, whether for her own life, or standing up for the people of southern Arizona.”
Interviewed the next day, Dan Hernandez, perhaps wondering at his own actions, said, “It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.”
He added, “You just have to be calm and collected. You do no good to anyone if you have a breakdown. …”
For reasons beyond my understanding, too much attention will again be paid to the shooter, to the twisted, Charlie Manson-like figure now far too common in our society. Are they far too common because of the attention we all pay to them?
What if instead we focus our attention on Dan Hernandez, who ran to the sounds of the gunshots because people needed help?