Daniel Hernandez Jr. was a 21-year-old political science major at the University of Arizona in 2011. As a student government leader, he was active in politics both in and out of school. At that time, Hernandez was an intern in Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s 8th Congressional District. That was six years ago. Today, Hernandez is a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, representing Arizona’s District 2, a position he was first elected to in May 2016.
But this is not a story about Hernandez as a politician, although you could certainly write a book on Hernandez and his public service in that regard. This is a story about the man, Daniel Hernandez Jr., and the actions he took on January 8, 2011, while interning at an event held for the purpose of constituents to meet with their representatives.
The event, held in the parking lot of a Safeway grocery store in Tuscon, was political: a common practice called “Congressman On Your Corner.”
Giffords set up her table just outside of the grocery store and was gathering a crowd of people who wanted to meet her and engage in some discussion on a variety of topics. It started as a wonderful day of interaction between public servants and the people who elected them.
By the end of the day, it would become a worldwide broadcast news story and the scene of horrific multiple crimes.
Jared Lee Loughner attended that event, but with one specific purpose — to kill. He carried with him a 9×19 mm Glock and a 19 semi-automatic pistol with a 33-round magazine. As 20 to 30 people surrounded Gifford waiting for their turn to meet her, he approached the Representative, drew his pistol, and shot Giffords in the head.
Loughner then proceeded to randomly shoot at other people in the crowd. When he stopped to reload, he dropped his loaded magazine, and bystander Patricia Maisch grabbed it. Another bystander took the opportunity to use a folding chair to club Loughner on the back of his head.
That’s when 74-year-old retired United States Army Colonel Bill Badger, who had also already been shot by Loughner, tackled him to the ground. Others jumped in to hold Loughner to the ground until authorities arrived.
Six people were killed that day, including Federal District Court Chief Judge John Roll, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, and Gabe Zimmerman, one of Rep. Giffords’ staffers. Fourteen others were injured.
While many ran away from the shots, one man ran towards them.
When Hernández first heard the gunshots, he told Time Magazine, “I tuned everything out and started going into critical-thinking mode, which was that you need to get whoever’s still alive some help until EMTs arrive.”
Giffords was still alive, and he was the first to reach her as she lay slumped over on the ground.
Hernández lifted her against his chest to prevent her from choking on her own blood, and held his hand against her head wound to slow the flow of blood. Safeway workers rushed store smocks to him to apply to the wound.
Although Hernández was pursuing a career in politics, he had training in first aid learned in a certified nursing program he had taken. In the ambulance on the way to the hospital, he held Giffords’ hand as he tried to reach her husband by telephone. When they arrived at the hospital, Giffords was listed as “critical.”
Rep. Giffords made what her doctors labeled as a miraculous recovery. Hernandez had saved her life.
Had he not rushed to help her that day, most believe she would not have survived. Hernandez emerged as a hero from that tragedy, a label he continually and staunchly rejects. He has been honored by his state, community, and country.
President Barrack Obama set the record straight on Hernandez’s “hero” label. In a public ceremony and in recognition during the State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “Our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful to Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby’s office. And Daniel, I’m sorry. You may deny it, but we have decided you are a hero because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive.”
Hernandez has said, “One thing that we have learned from this great tragedy is, we have come together. On [that] Saturday, we all became Tucsonans … we all became Arizonans. And above all, we all became Americans.”
Watch a short CNN interview with Hernandez in the video below
Sources: Arizona Hero Daniel Hernandez: I ‘Shut Off My Emotions To Get Stuff Done’ by NPR Rep. Gabrielle Giffords Shot in Arizona – 2011 | Today in History | 8 Jan 17 by AP Archive on YouTube and Dateline The 2011 Tucson Shooting by Mie Feri on YouTube.