The husband of shot politician Gabrielle Giffords said today he believed for about 20 minutes that his wife was dead after seeing a TV news report that said wrongly that his wife had been fatally wounded.
Democrat Ms Giffords, 40, is recovering in a Tucson, Arizona, hospital from a gunshot wound to the head after a gunman targeted her in a rampage outside a supermarket that killed six people and wounded 13 on January 8.
Astronaut Mark Kelly told ABC’s Diane Sawyer in a TV interview that he rushed aboard a friend’s plane to fly to Arizona and while aboard the plane saw the TV report.
“I just, you know, walked into the bathroom, and you know, broke down,” he said. “To hear that she died is just, it’s devastating for me.”
Mr Kelly said he learned that she was alive when he called Ms Giffords’ mother, who was outside the operating theatre at the hospital where the congresswoman was being treated.
Mr Kelly also said he was sure Ms Giffords recognised him at her hospital bed, since she has continued with a habit of playing with his wedding ring – moving it up and down his finger and sometimes putting it on her thumb.
“She’s done that before,” he said. “She’ll do that if we’re sitting in a restaurant. She’ll do the same exact movements.”
Mr Kelly added that Ms Giffords was not aware that six people had died in the shooting, including Gabe Zimmerman, one of her staff members. He also said he probably would not want her to return to the US Congress.
“But I know that’s probably not going to matter to her. I think she’s such a devoted public servant that she’s going to come out of this and be more resolved to fix things,” he said.
Doctors said Ms Giffords, who is in a serious condition, continues to improve physically and neurologically.
Meanwhile the man who sparked much of the debate over the tone in politics, Pima County sheriff Clarence Dupnik, has been getting so much hate mail that his office’s computer system nearly crashed.
Sheriff Dupnik blamed a toxic political environment for the attack, drawing criticism from opponents who said he made a rush to judgment.
Investigators have since said that the 22-year-old suspect, Jared Loughner, is mentally unstable and not apparently motivated by partisan politics.
He is in a federal jail as investigators try to work out what prompted him to open fire at an open-air surgery held by Ms Giffords at a Tuscon shopping mall.
Mr Kelly said he did not believe the level of political debate was the reason behind Loughner’s alleged attack.
But he said he had spoken with Giffords many times about the risks of her job.
“She says, you know, ’Some day I’m really worried that somebody’s going to come up to me at one of these events with a gun’,” he said.
Ten days after the attack, a stream of people has visited memorials at Ms Giffords’ office and at the hospital.
At her office, workers are recording the names, contact information and messages in each card to document them and send thank-you notes.
The cards will be given to Ms Giffords when she is able to read them.