Daniel Hernandez Jr., the openly gay intern who ran to the rescue of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during last Saturday’s shooting in Tucson, was seated next to President Obama Wednesday during a memorial for the victims of that shooting.
President Obama and others repeated referred to Hernandez as a “hero,” but Hernandez himself urged that the title belongs, not to him but, to Giffords and other public servants.
“Though I appreciate the sentiment, I must humbly reject the use of the word hero because I am not one,” said Hernandez. “The people who are the heroes,” he said, were Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, members of her staff, the first responders to the shooting, and the doctors caring for Giffords.
“We have all come together to realize that what defines us is not the differences,” said Hernandez. “It is that we are all together, we are all a family, we are all Americans.”
“Daniel, I’m sorry, you may deny it, but we’ve decided you are a hero,” said President Obama during his remarks. He was interrupted by applause. “You ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive.”
Hernandez received a standing ovation when he arrived at the podium during the memorial service. In addition to being seated next to the president, Hernandez was seated next to former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was accompanied by Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Hernandez, 20, is a student at the University of Arizona but began working as an intern in Giffords’ Tucson office on January 3. He ran toward Giffords when the shooting broke out and, once he saw her head wound, used his hand to apply pressure to curb the bleeding and held her upright to prevent her from choking on the blood. Doctors have credited Hernandez’s quick response with having saved Giffords’ life.
President Obama visited Giffords before Wednesday evening’s memorial service. He told the audience that, shortly after he left her room, Giffords opened her eyes for the first time. Her husband Mark Kelly, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, New York Senator Kristin Gillibrand, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) were with her at the time, according to the Washington Post.
Giffords suffered a gunshot to the head Saturday while conducting a meet-and-greet event for constituents in Tucson, Arizona. Six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, were killed during the shooting. Thirteen others were injured. Police arrested a 22-year-old man with apparent mental instability after several constituents at the scene were able to subdue him while he attempted to reload his semi-automatic weapon.