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U.S. Capitol room named for Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman

Vice President Biden hugs Emily Nottingham, the mother of Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman. His father, Ross Zimmerman, is at left. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

There was talk of a park, a trail, even a monument in Arizona, but in the end the family of the only congressional staffer ever slain at work chose a simpler honor: a basement meeting room with his name.

On Tuesday, the Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman Meeting Room was dedicated to the aide who was fatally shot as he lunged toward the gunman who wounded his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in Tucson in 2011.

But it turned out not to be that simple of an honor. No rooms had been named in the new $600 million U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, and no room in the U.S. Capitol complex had ever been named for a staffer.

Vice President Biden, former congresswoman Giffords and a VIP list of Congress members gathered Tuesday to remember Zimmerman as a dedicated employee who worked in the usual anonymity of a congressional staffer and who died in an act of selflessness and courage.

The 30-year-old community outreach director in Giffords’s district office had organized the meet-and-greet with constituents outside a Safeway in Tucson where he and five others were killed. Fellow Giffords staff members said Zimmerman had been near the back of the meeting when it began but ended up near the shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, as he was tackled while attempting to reload.

In this January 2009 photo provided by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, aide Gabe Zimmerman is seen in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (AP)

“It is not hyperbole,” Biden said, “that he didn’t run away from the fire, he ran into the fire.”

In a ceremony in which several lawmakers, staff members and family members wept openly, Biden’s voice trailed off to a whisper, “a remarkable kid, a remarkable kid.”

Ross Zimmerman said it was “strange and surreal” to be honoring his son’s life the day after the attacks in Boston. Both father and son were marathon runners and had run together twice at the Grand Canyon.

“The complete incongruity, the horror of that situation, is something that caught our attention,” the elder Zimmerman said.

He pointed to a plaque in the room bearing a bronze resemblance of his son’s boyish grin and called it a fitting tribute.

“An echo of Gabriel will persist, perhaps for centuries. It isn’t worth the loss, but the echo is good and true,” Ross Zimmerman said. “I ask that you and our descendents take inspiration from my son’s echo as you conduct the affairs of this Congress and the affairs of this nation.”

The House voted unanimously in 2011 to name the room for Zimmerman. It is used often by House Democrats.

“This isn’t the space we use for pomp and ceremony,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said. “People come here for meetings, gatherings, democratic rituals of their own right, the kind of assemblies that Gabe would have planned and led as a staffer.”

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