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Ron Barber, Giffords staffer shot Jan. 8, to return to work

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U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' district director, Ron Barber, will return to work next week, nearly six months after he suffered serious injuries in the Jan. 8 shooting.

Barber, who supervises 11 employees in Giffords' offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista, will work half time while continuing to undergo rehabilitation, Giffords' office said.

Barber will return to work at Giffords' district office, 3945 E. Fort Lowell Rd., at 9 a.m. on Tuesday.

"I have been working and planning for this day since I was injured in January," Barber said in a news release.

"I have missed my colleagues in the congresswoman's office and am ready to rejoin them as we continue offering services to the people of Congressional District 8. I very much look forward to the day Congresswoman Giffords herself will be able to return to work."

Barber, 65, was shot twice, once in the left cheek and once in the left thigh. He was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of University Medical Center, and was discharged after six days.

The bullet that struck Barber in the cheek exited from the back of his neck, barely missing his spinal column. The shot that struck him in the thigh caused far more serious medical problems and has hampered his ability to walk.

Barber has only limited feeling in the lower part of his left leg and continues to undergo rigorous physical therapy.

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Doctors have said that Barber likely would have died if bystander Anna Ballis had not applied pressure to his thigh wound.

In an interview soon after the shooting, Barber said of Ballis, "I just remember her coming to my aid after I was down.… Had she not been there, I would have probably bled to death right there on the ground."

Six people died in the shooting including Barber's colleague, Gabe Zimmerman, Giffords' community outreach director. Both Barber and Zimmerman had been working for Giffords since she first took office in January 2007.

Another Giffords' staff member, Pam Simon, also was wounded on Jan. 8. She was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the wrist. Simon returned to work in late February.

Thursday, Barber is traveling to Yuma to speak at the ground breaking of the John M. Roll United States Courthouse. The ceremony will begin at 2 p.m. Thursday at 98 W. First St. in Yuma.

Roll, the chief federal judge for Arizona, was among those killed on Jan. 8. He had gone to thank Giffords for helping ease the workload of Arizona's overburdened federal judges by supporting Roll's request for declaration of a judicial emergency.

Before going to work for Giffords, Barber held management positions in community-based organizations and in state and local government. He was director of Headstart in Southern Arizona and regional administrator and state director for the Arizona Division of Developmental Disabilities. In late 2006, he was appointed by newly elected Giffords to chair her transition team and became her district director in January 2007.

Ron and his wife, Nancy, a Tucson native, have two daughters, Jennifer and Crissi, and four grandchildren.

Loughner faces 49 counts, forced psych meds

Jared Loughner, the accused Jan. 8 gunman, can be forced to take medication by prison officials, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

In an emergency hearing held in San Diego, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns said he did not want to second guess doctors at the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo., where Loughner is being held.

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Loughner, 22, is accused of killing six, including a nine-year-old girl, and shooting U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head in what authorities charge was an assassination attempt.

He also is charged with wounding 12 others at the "Congress On Your Corner" meet and greet with constituents at a Northwest Side grocery store on the morning of Jan. 8.

He was found incompetent to stand trial last month, and was sent to a federal facility in Missouri for treatment to restore his ability to understand the charges against him and participate in his defense.

In March, Loughner was charged with 49 federal counts in the attack. Not guilty pleas were entered on his behalf by the court.

Fourteen of the charges Loughner faces could result in the death penalty, if the prosecution seeks it. No decision of whether to ask for capital punishment has been made, authorities have said.

Loughner likely will face local charges in the shooting incident, authorities have said, but only after the federal case is resolved.

Giffords' condition

Giffords made a surprise public appearance at a NASA event earlier this week, where her husband, Navy Capt. Mark Kelly, was being honored. The astronaut announced last week that he would retire from the military. The couple have a book deal in the works, he said.

The congresswoman made a weekend trip back to Tucson for Father's Day. She has made an official public appearance, spoken to constituents, or released a statement in her own name since the shooting.

Nearly six months after she was shot through the brain, Giffords struggles to communicate, an aide told a columnist for the Arizona Republic.

Giffords searches for words and has trouble putting sentences together, said the congresswoman's chief of staff, Pia Carusone, in a piece by E.J. Montini  earlier this month.

Speaking directly about Giffords' condition and when she might make a public appearance for the first time since the Jan. 8 shooting that claimed the lives of six others, Carusone said Giffords' "communication skills have been impacted the most."

Continuing in office

As I reported on her birthday, Giffords' staffers have been relunctant to comment on her plans to continue in office, or run again. Carusone didn't stray much beyond the party line.

"The only firm timetable is the timetable and that is May of 2012, when petitions are due for reelection," Carusone told the Republic. "That's a firm timetable."

"Short of that, we'd love to know today what her life will be, what her quality of life will be, which will determine whether she'll be able to run for office and all sorts of other things involving her life. But we just don't know yet…We're about halfway through the process that is the most important time for recovery. Patients recover for the rest of their lives but it's the first 12 to 14 months that you make the biggest jumps… In the doctors minds it's not even close to when you begin to make the final prognosis for the quality of her life."

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