Hospital releases Tucson shooting victim

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 14, 2011; 1:34 PM

TUCSON - Five days after being shot while helping at a meet-and-greet event for her boss, Pam Simon, a community outreach coordinator for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), was released Thursday afternoon from the hospital where she was treated for gunshot wounds to her chest and right wrist.

Simon, who still has a bullet lodged in her hip that traveled from her chest, said she was relieved to have her first home-cooked meal -- homemade lentils -- since the incident in which six were killed and 13 wounded.

"I am just so happy to be home," she said Thursday evening. "I feel very blessed."

Simon, who taught English for 24 years before retiring and joining Giffords's staff in 2007, said she was employed at Tortolita Middle and Mountain View High schools when shooting suspect Jared Loughner would have been a student at the schools, but she didn't remember him.

Simon said she was standing about seven feet from Giffords on Saturday when the shooting occurred. She said she had just asked a photographer to take a picture of a couple with the congresswoman when she was hit by bullets and fell face down.

When she hit the ground, Simon said, she pretended she was dead. "I wiggled my fingers and toes and knew I wasn't paralyzed," she said.

After people in the crowd tackled the gunman, a passerby who arrived before medical teams stayed with Simon, speaking calmly and reassuring her. She said she asked the man to reach into her pocket for her cell phone to call her husband.

Simon said she believes the "only way to get through this horrific tragedy is to focus on the future and the things that can be done to make things better." She said that would reflect Giffords's positive personality .

"Gabby's going to wake up and wonder what we've been doing to work on things."

Simon said she had troubled students like Loughner in her classes and believed there was little a teacher could do to remove the student, even if others worried about safety.

"My understanding was there wasn't a lot that could be done unless the student had done something," Simon said. She said she'd like to see improvements made in how teachers report and deal with such students.

On Wednesday, President Obama and the first lady visited Simon and other victims at United Medical Center. Simon said that while she'd always wanted to meet the Obamas, she was sorry it was under such circumstances. And with the help of Giffords's husband, Mark Kelly, Simon was able to visit Giffords's bedside. "She squeezed my hand," Simon said. "I don't know if it was reflexes or not but to feel her squeeze was so special."

Simon attended Obama's speech at the memorial service Wednesday in a wheelchair and said it was "very special" to see the family of Gabe Zimmerman, a colleague in Giffords's office who was killed Saturday.

Simon said she is still in a "bubble of disbelief" over the death of Zimmerman.

"He had a real social worker spirit," she said. "It is a loss that cannot be filled."

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