Gay intern credited with saving Giffords’ life

Daniel Hernandez Jr. is shown accompanying his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, to an ambulance after she was shot on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Daniel Hernandez Jr., a 20-year-old University of Arizona student who’d been working as an intern for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for only five days, is being credited with saving her life after she was shot on Saturday.

Hernandez, who confirmed that he is gay in an interview with Instant Tea on Sunday morning, is a member of the City of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. “She’s been a great ally to the LGBT community,” Hernandez said of Giffords during the brief interview across a bad connection.

According to the Arizona Republic, Hernandez was standing about 30 feet from Giffords during the “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a Safeway store near Tucson. When the gunshots began, Hernandez ran toward them and began checking the pulses of people who’d been hit. When Hernandez got to Giffords, he used his hand to apply pressure to the entry wound on her forehead.  He pulled her into his lap and held her upright so she wouldn’t choke on her blood.

Daniel Hernandez is shown with Giffords in this image from his Facebook page.

Hernandez used his hand to apply pressure to the wound until someone brought clean smocks from the meat department of the grocery store. He stayed with Giffords until paramedics arrived, then climbed into an ambulance with her. On the way to the hospital, he squeezed her hand and she squeezed back. From the Republic:

When they arrived at the hospital, Hernandez was soaked in blood. His family brought him clean clothes because the FBI took his for evidence.

He waited at the hospital while she went into surgery. He needed to tell police what had happened. He overheard people walking by talking about how Giffords had died. He also heard this on NPR. Later, he learned she had lived.

“I was ecstatic,” he said. “She was one of the people I’ve looked up to. Knowing she was alive and still fighting was good news. She’s definitely a fighter, whether for her own life, or standing up for people in southern Arizona.”

The fact that Hernandez was nearby and able to react quickly probably saved Giffords’ life, said state Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and a hospital physician. He talked to Hernandez at the hospital after the shooting.

Eight hours after the shooting, Hernandez stood with Giffords’ friends and staff and told them what had happened. The tall, strong 20-year-old said, “Of course you’re afraid, you just kind of have to do what you can.”

They hugged and thanked him. Later, he sat with his mom and sisters and told them about his friends and the staffers who had died that day.

“You just have to be calm and collected,” he said. “You do no good to anyone if you have a breakdown. … It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help.”

—  John Wright