Bill Badger, who was one of the crowd members who helped subdue the crazed gunman who opened fire at Gabby Giffords' Congress on Your Corner event on Jan. 8, 2011, has passed away.
Giffords released this statement:
I’m so sad to learn that Bill Badger has passed away. Bill was not only a great man and a proud Army veteran, he was a hero. On January 8, 2011, Bill was wounded in the head by a bullet from the gun of my would-be assassin. Not even pausing to realize he had been injured, Bill ran towards the shooter and towards danger so that he could help subdue him until the authorities arrived. I believe that Bill helped save lives that morning. And I will always be grateful to him for his selfless, brave actions.
My heart, thoughts, and prayers are with Bill’s loved ones as they mourn the loss of a great man.
Ron Barber, the Giffords aide who would later go on to take Gabby's congressional seat, also released a statement:
I was deeply saddened to learn today of the passing of Bill Badger — a man who brushed aside concerns about his own safety to help save the lives of those attending Congresswoman Giffords' Congress on Your Corner on January. 8, 2011. Nancy and I send our heartfelt condolences to Bill's wife Sally and his family and friends.
The label “hero” can be overused, but Bill was undoubtedly one of the true heroes when a gunman opened fire at the shopping center on January 8, 2011. Although he had been grazed by a bullet and was bleeding from his head, Bill disregarded his own well-being and joined two others to stop the gunman.
Six people died that day and 13 others of us were wounded — but the toll would have been much higher had not Bill taken fast action when the gunman paused to reload. I will forever be grateful for his bravery and the lives he saved.
Bill dedicated his life to helping others. He also had a distinguished career serving his nation in the United States Army, rising to the rank of colonel.
Bill will be missed by all of us who were there on January 8 and by everyone who knew him. I am proud call him a friend.
I wrote about Badger in 2012, one year after the mass shooting:
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.