First photos of Gabrielle Giffords since Tucson shooting

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By Alicia Barron By Alicia Barron

HOUSTON, Texas – The first photos of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords since the Tucson shooting have been released.

The two photographs show her smiling and are the first to be released since the shooting on Jan. 8 at a "Congress on Your Corner" political event in Tucson that left six people dead and another 13 injured.

The decision to release them now was made by Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, according to spokesman C.J. Karamargin.

"The process has been under way for some weeks," Karamargin said. "I think the photographer was contacted probably more than a month ago."

That photographer is veteran photojournalist P.K. Weis, who worked for the Tuscon Citizen for 36 years and has known the congresswoman for more than a decade.

The release of the photos comes as Giffords prepares to be released from TIRR Memorial Hermann rehabilitation center in Houston to begin outpatient treatment.

"Releasing the photos now, as she's about to go into outpatient treatment, we thought it was a good moment for that," Karamargin said. "She's going to get a tremendous boost, I think, from getting to leave TIRR every afternoon and come back in the morning to continue her rehab."

Karamargin said once discharged, Giffords would initially live in Houston while continuing treatment but is looking forward to eventually returning to Tucson.

The two photographs were posted on her Facebook page Sunday morning. Rumors had swirled of a $250,000 bounty for the first photo of Giffords and her team wanted to make sure she put the picture out on her own schedule.

"I think she's going to be a little bit surprised at the intensity of the interest in these photos, but I think she's going to be pleased that they are being received so well," Karamargin said.

The photos were taken in Houston one day after the launch of the Endeavour space shuttle and the day before Giffords had surgery to replace a piece of her skull.

Karamargin said her head is now slightly more rounded since that surgery.

One of the congresswoman's closest friends, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, said Giffords is speaking in full sentences and began conversations as opposed to just responding as she had done in the past.

Karamargin said the congresswoman is interested in what's been going on in Washington and has been following current events closely.

When asked if Giffords was following the sexting scandal involving fellow Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner and thought he should resign, Karamargin laughed and said, "I haven't spoken to her about that yet, but I'm sure she's been following what's happening and if I know Gabby I imagine she responded the same way a lot of other people did, which is shaking her head and rolling her eyes."