For victims of 2011 Tucson shooting, Wednesday attack a painful reminder

Ron Barber was an aide to then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and went on to win the congressional seat after the shooting. Barber, wounded in the attack, said such events scar the people who survive the attack and the community. (Photo by Devin Conley/ Cronkite News)

Pam Simon, one of the survivors of the 2011 attack in Tucson that left six dead and 13 injured, including then-Rep. Gabrielley Giffords, said news of an attack Wednesday on members of Congress in Washington, D.C. brought memories rushing back. (Photo by Devin Conley/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – It’s been more than six years since a shooting spree at a Tucson congressional event killed six and wounded 13, including then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but Wednesday’s shooting in Virginia brought the memories flooding back.

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, and four others were wounded when a gunman opened fire on Republican lawmakers as they practiced in Alexandria, Virginia, for an upcoming charity baseball game – the first shooting of a member of Congress since Giffords.

“I am heartbroken for the pain of Congressman Scalise, the other victims, and their family, friends, and colleagues who survived,” Giffords said in a statement released Wednesday. “I also know the courage it takes to recover from a shooting like this, and I know Steve and everyone there this morning have such courage in great supply.”

Staff members who accompanied Giffords at the time of the 2011 attack were reminded of the tragedy they then experienced.

“My first reaction was to think back to that awful day of Jan. 8 when Congressman Giffords was shot,” said Ron Barber, a Giffords aide who was wounded in the 2011 attack and later elected to fill her seat in Congress. “I was standing beside her and was the second person shot that morning.”

Another staff member wounded in the attack, Pam Simon, was overwhelmed with sadness Wednesday morning. She said that a half-decade later the news was all too familiar to her and others who were touched by the Tucson shooting.

“There was a lot of emails to each other and texts, encouraging each other to take care of themselves,” Simon said of hearing the news Wednesday. “It’s both a beautiful experience that we have stayed so close, but also everyone reported having all those feelings flood back.”

The Tucson community was jolted by the 2011 attack, and memories that they thought were placed behind them began to resurface.

“It was very emotional for me and it does kind of bring it all back,” said Crystal Kasnoff, a childhood friend of Giffords’ and director of a memorial to the Tucson shooting.

“The shock of what had happened and happening again, we can just pray and hope that our country comes together and finds a solution to these types of violence,” Kasnoff said.

-Cronkite News video by Tyler Fingert

Survivors of the Giffords attack said they still cope with the consequences of such a tragedy.

“Something that was said this morning was that the congressman would fully recover – no one ever fully recovers from an event like this,” Simon said Wednesday. “It’s part of you, it’s part of your past, it will always be there even if a physical wound has healed.”

Such attacks affect not just the direct victims, but also the people surrounding them, the survivors said.

“It’s not just the physical injuries, which are serious enough, it’s the emotional and psychological injuries that I think will be with anyone who witnessed this,” said Barber, injuries that he said stay with them for life.

Victims responded to the shooting Wednesday by encouraging the country to come together and support each other in the healing process.

“I think about the Washington, D.C., community, because though many people in Washington, D.C., come from somewhere else, they are today a family in the way that Tucson was a family,” Simon said.

– Cronkite News reporter Tyler Fingert contributed to this report in Tucson.