The Heroes

We catch up with some of the people who made Southern Arizona proud on Jan. 8, 2011

Bill Badger knows he's lucky to be alive.

The 75-year-old retired Army colonel went to the Congress on Your Corner event on Jan. 8 to talk to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords about how federal health-care reform would affect his military benefits.

When the shooting started, his first thought was that someone was tossing around fireworks to cause a scare. Then he saw the gunman shooting people as they stood in line ahead of him.

As the gunman turned his pistol toward him, Badger ducked, and a bullet grazed the back of his head. If he had been any slower, he knows he would have been killed.

"I consider myself the luckiest person in the whole world," Badger says. "If I hadn't ducked exactly when I did, I wouldn't be here today."

Badger hit the ground, dazed, and looked up to see the gunman, now out of bullets, pausing to reload. By instinct, he reached up to grab the gunman's wrist, just as Roger Salzgeber hit the gunman from behind. The gunman went down and was subdued by the two men.

The shooting had a deep impact on Badger, who still gets emotional as he talks about it. He's gotten his share of awards and accolades since, including the Minuteman award from the National Guard Association of Arizona, and the Valley Forge Cross for Heroism from the National Guard Association of the United States. He's met President Barack Obama. He enjoyed a week of rest and relaxation at Canyon Ranch. He traveled to baseball's All-Star Game in Phoenix and to the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in Florida.

He's also trying to put his newfound fame to good use.

"After such a tragic event, one thing I'm trying to do is make something good come out of this," Badger says.

He has focused his efforts on trying to find a way to ensure that guns don't fall into the hands of people like Jared Loughner. He's been working with other Tucsonans and a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.

Although he's a registered Republican and a fan of former NRA president Sandy Froman, Badger thought it was "terrible" when the Pima County Republican Party auctioned off a Glock to raise funds last year.

"I turned on my TV that night, and I saw this Glock gun that looked just exactly like the one I saw laying on the sidewalk right after I'd been shot," Badger says. "They were going to raffle it off, and I thought, 'How in the hell can somebody do something like that?' It was extremely poor judgment."

Badger still wears one of the blue "Gabby" wristbands that were sold to raise money for a scholarship fund honoring Gabe Zimmerman, the Giffords staffer who was slain on Jan. 8. He says the only time he takes it off is when he showers.

"I'm going to let Gabby take it off," he says.

If you're going to use the word hero when you talk to Daniel Hernandez Jr., you better not be referring to him.

The UA student, recently elected to the Sunnyside Unified School District governing board, is often credited with saving Gabrielle Giffords' life, because he reacted quickly after she was shot and applied pressure to her head wound to contain the bleeding.

In the days following the shootings, Hernandez was honored by both the LGBT and Latino communities, who saw him as a representative hero in a state where lawmakers have defined marriage as between only a man and woman, and where anti-Mexican sentiment has become a major export.

"I'm going to be real honest: I don't like the word 'hero.' It's hard to disagree with someone like the president, but I'm going to keep doing it," Hernandez says. "Jan. 8 is something I have repeatedly said is a one-time thing. You know, there are people in Tucson who are real heroes, working day in and day out without fame and without anyone calling them a hero.

"It is really humbling ... but as far as both communities claiming me, I'm not the model Latino or a model member of the LGBT community. I'm Daniel Hernandez. That's the only person I know how to be."

Hernandez is slated to graduate from the UA in May, and he's excited to be part of the Sunnyside school board. At the UA, he was working with the Arizona Students' Association to advocate for public education, resigning when he ran for the school board. The ASA is a statewide organization directed and funded by Arizona's public-university students to lobby elected officials and involve students in issues such as proposed tuition increases.

He describes his school-board campaign as an interesting experience. He graduated from Sunnyside High School in 2008, and a group of his former teachers went door to door for him and made several hundred phone calls on his behalf.

"For me, it was full circle," Hernandez says.

He says his work with the ASA allowed him to meet legislators and get a better idea of how education was being dealt with. It's how he met state Rep. Steve Farley, and became the campaign manager for Farley's most-recent race.

Hernandez says that support from friends like Farley and Farley's wife, Kelly Paisley, has helped him through the days following Jan. 8, including the crush of interview requests.

"I've been very fortunate that I had people who put themselves on the line for me several times, and went out of their way to help me get to the movies or decompress after a long couple of days. They seemed to know when I needed it most," he says.

He also includes close friends at the UA, his two sisters and his parents as part of his support group.

"It's been important to have people around me who know my personality and knew after Jan. 8 that I didn't like the attention and that I had to get back to work right away," he says.

Asked if it is possible to move on after the events of Jan. 8, Hernandez says it's not about moving on, but about moving forward—and keeping alive the memory of those who were killed or wounded.

"People have been stepping up ... I've been helping different organizations, like the United Way, and finding other ways I can give back," Hernandez says.

"We could have left the city and let Tucson be defined by the actions of one person, but we've said, 'That isn't the best way.' We should define ourselves as a strong community that's going to keep fighting for positive things—moving forward, not moving on, and doing what we can to make this a better place."

The Tucson Weekly recognized Patricia Maisch as one of our Local Heroes just last month, but we wanted to connect with her again to ask how she intends to mark the Jan. 8 anniversary.

Maisch was praised for taking a magazine away from Jared Loughner when he tried to reload. When people call her a hero, she usually tells them that Roger Salzgeber and Bill Badger, the two men who tackled Loughner, are the real heroes.

When she heard gunshots, "I didn't think I had time to run, so I got on the ground," she says. "At the same moment, Bill and Roger knocked him down, essentially on top of me. They yelled, 'Get the gun—get the magazine!' I knelt up but I couldn't reach his gun, which was in his right hand, outstretched. But I got the magazine from his left hand, which he was getting out from his pants."

During the anniversary of Jan. 8, Maisch expects she'll touch base with Badger, Salzgeber and others who were at the Safeway on that day, and participate in some of the events honoring the victims.

"I think it is absolutely critical to their memory to be part of what's taking place. If not, the killer's name will be remembered much easier over time than the people who were murdered," Maisch says. "When I talk, I try to say all of their names (Dorothy Morris, Judge John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, Gabe Zimmerman and Christina-Taylor Green) and try not to say the shooter's name. I think it is really important that we remember them."

Maisch says she finds it comforting whenever she meets with people who were at the scene of the shootings. "When we are together, a lot of us always say it is somewhat comforting, because only the people actually there have the physical experience—the horror and the mayhem and the carnage."

She says remembering those killed on Jan. 8 is also important because it could prevent other people from being murdered in the same way. Maisch was asked last spring to become a spokeswoman for a proposed law advocated by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of more than 500 members who want to tighten the background checks required of people who purchase guns.

Although Maisch shrugs off the title of hero, she does describe herself as a "person of action."

"It takes both that and heroes to change things," she says. "I hope there are more people of action out there to tell Congress that people who shouldn't have guns shouldn't have them."

If you're interested in helping Maisch reach her goal, she asks that you sign a petition to support tougher background checks for gun sales at

On Jan. 8, 2011, Gabrielle Giffords and most of the other victims of the shootings at the Congress on Your Corner event were taken to the trauma center at University Medical Center (now called the University of Arizona Medical Center).

Before that day, few people in Tucson knew much about the city's trauma center, and even fewer knew anything about Dr. Peter Rhee, the former military surgeon and chief of trauma.

Because of the national scope of the tragedy, members of the media descended on the hospital. The daily televised press conferences featuring Rhee and other members of the medical team became vital—not only for journalists, but also for people at home and work who were worried and praying.

There's a tendency to call members of the UMC trauma team heroes, and they certainly are to the people whose lives they saved that day. But Rhee says he looks at it a bit differently, especially after serving at a U.S. Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, where he treated hundreds of men and women wounded on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

"I know in my heart of hearts that they are not calling me specifically a hero; they are calling the system a hero," Rhee says. "You and I know I am not the hero. In Landstuhl, when I see those guys who get blown up for the sake of someone else, that's a hero to me. I didn't take a bullet for somebody. I did what we were supposed to do."

The attention Rhee and other medical-team members have received since the shootings has been phenomenal, but Rhee says some of his peers are irritated by it, rather than seeing it as an opportunity to educate people about their work and the trauma facility in Tucson.

Rhee also thinks the attention has been a great tool for teaching medical staff about the importance of talking to the media.

"In many ways, the medical field, in a subtle way, is taught to avoid the media, but it actually needs the media," Rhee says. "But I think my peers still don't know how to handle it, and they just want it to go away."

Rhee says he'll be participating in Jan. 8 anniversary events on Sunday, but admits the continued media attention feels a bit weird.

"It was a catastrophic event for our city, and as a result, our city has changed in some ways for the better," Rhee says. "This was a blemish to us, and because we know we're normally not like that, we want to show the world that we have a better attitude."

Roger Salzgeber was at the Congress on Your Corner event with his wife, Faith, to say hello to Gabrielle Giffords.

Salzgeber, a self-described liberal, had worked hard on Giffords' 2010 re-election effort. Before, he was never involved in politics much beyond casting a vote on Election Day. But that changed when a window at Giffords' office was shattered, most likely by a pellet gun, after she voted to support the Democrats' health-care reform package.

Salzgeber, 62, who had recently retired after selling a wholesale desert-plant nursery, was so upset by the broken window that he signed up to help Giffords' re-election effort. After winning a contest to gather the most signatures on nominating petitions, Salzgeber won a lunch with Giffords at the Arizona Inn—and came away smitten with her.

He and Faith were in line waiting to talk to Giffords when the gunfire erupted. He dived one way; Faith went another—and somehow, neither was shot as the gunman walked past them.

When the gunman stopped to reload, Salzgeber saw his chance and charged him, knocking him over. With the help of Bill Badger, he pinned the shooter to the ground, twisting the shooter's arm behind his back and planting his knee on the back of the shooter's neck.

Salzgeber doesn't like to relive the details. Sometimes, he'll get together with some of the other survivors of Jan. 8, but when the topic turns to the shootings, he has to walk away.

"When the subject turns to all this, I just can't talk about it," Salzgeber says. "I can't move forward if they keep making me look backward."

It's been a year of amazing honors for him: meeting President Obama; attending the launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavour at Cape Canaveral; and a head-clearing, 11-day rafting trip down the Colorado River. During a trip to Chicago's Wrigley Field, he was seated in a box behind home plate and invited onto the field while an announcer sang his praises, and the team presented him with a Cubs jersey with his name on the back.

As a lifelong Cubs fan who grew up in Chicago, it was an unforgettable experience.

"I was just ear to ear," Salzgeber says. "It was very, very cool for me."

He continues to throw himself into politics. He's signed on to help Democrat Nancy Young Wright get elected to the Pima County Board of Supervisors, should she decide to run this year. He now attends meetings of the Oro Valley Democrats and other political organizations. He even attended many of the Southern Arizona meetings of the Independent Redistricting Commission, testifying about the important of competitive districts. He was "totally outraged" when Gov. Jan Brewer tried to remove IRC chairwoman Colleen Mathis in November.

"It all makes me way more angry," Salzgeber says. "I'm trying to channel that into getting people who are somewhat reasonable elected ... and I've never been like that before."