Giffords aide who was hurt in rampage back at work

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By Natalie Rivers By Natalie Rivers

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A staffer for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to work Tuesday for the first time since being seriously injured in the Tucson mass shooting nearly six months ago.

Ron Barber, 65, was shot in the cheek and thigh during the Jan. 8 attack that killed six people and injured 13, including Barber and Giffords. The shooting killed Barber's colleague, Gabe Zimmerman, and John Roll, Barber's college buddy and a federal judge.

Barber has spent the past six months undergoing extensive physical therapy and coping with the trauma of the shooting and the loss of his friends. He returned to work at Giffords' Tucson office on a part-time basis Tuesday as he continued rehab and his struggles with fatigue and pain.

Barber works as district director for Giffords.

His co-workers showed up early at the office to put up big yellow balloons with smiley faces and a giant, homemade yellow sign that read, "Welcome Back Ron!"

A tearful Barber, still walking with a cane, came in slowly with his wife Nancy at his side as a crowd of co-workers cheered.

"Good morning! What's been happening the past six months?" Barber joked before hugging a dozen people. "It's like my first day at school."

Later he told reporters that Tuesday was the first morning he ever felt nervous going to work.

"I'm still a little apprehensive about what I can do," he said. "I'm going to be testing the waters."

He said he has been trying to get his doctors to allow him to go back to work for the past two months and only recently got final permission.

"I don't know how else I'm going to find out if I can do this if I don't try," he said.

The gunshot that hit Barber's cheek exited the back of his neck and barely missed his spinal column, while the shot that hit his thigh caused him more serious medical problems and has hindered his ability to walk. He has limited feeling in his lower left leg.

Doctors said Barber likely would have died without the help of a bystander, Anna Ballis, who applied pressure to his thigh wound. Police also credited Roll with helping save Barber's life; surveillance video of the shooting shows Roll pushing Barber to the ground, helping him crawl under a table then lying on top of him.

Another Giffords' staffer, Pam Simon, was wounded in the shooting after taking a bullet to the chest and one to the wrist. She returned to work in February.

Simon told The Associated Press that having Barber back was another milestone for the office staff as everyone continues to move on from the shooting.

"It makes it feel a little more normal," she said. "Ron was always the captain of the ship, and now it feels like we're back on course."

Barber's first order of business was to set up one-on-one meetings with office staffers to catch up on business and get back on track even more.

"These are all milestones," Barber said. "The next one will be when Gabby gets back."