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Ariz. Shooting Survivors Thank First Responders

PHOENIX (AP) — Survivors of the Tucson shooting rampage gathered Friday to remember the attack six months ago by thanking those who helped save their lives and remembering those who didn't survive.

A group gathered Friday morning for a brief ceremony in the parking lot of the grocery store where a gunman opened fire Jan. 8, killing six people and wounding 13 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

The ceremony included an emotional moment of silence, and firefighters raised an enormous American flag recovered from the site of the World Trade Center after 9/11.

"People kept asking me if it was hard for me to be there, and of course on one level it was," said Pam Simon, a Giffords' staffer who survived after taking a bullet to the chest and one to the wrist. "But I also thought it was a very fitting way to remember the six-month anniversary."

Simon said her thoughts Friday were of how lucky she is to be alive and of sorrow for those who aren't, including her friend and co-worker Gabe Zimmerman, a Giffords aide who was killed in the shooting.

"Physically, I am very, very blessed. I feel very well," she said. "However, it doesn't take away from the incredible sadness of not being able to see Gabby very often, and missing Gabe tremendously, and sadness for all those who lost loved ones. There is always going to be a big hole."

Simon also attended a second, private ceremony at a Little League field where a new statue honors the shooting's youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. The 9/11 flag was also displayed there. It had been displayed at the January funeral for Christina-Taylor, who was born Sept. 11, 2001.

The ceremony at the statue gave Simon the opportunity to meet the first paramedic who reached her after the attack, and she thanked him for helping save her life.

"That was probably the choke-up moment for me, when he came up and said it was good to see how well I was doing," she said.

Giffords' astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, reflected on the shooting with a Facebook post Friday that said his wife "continues to show strength and resilience."

"She is healing and moving forward. She has not let this tragedy dampen her optimism or love of life," he wrote. "I could not be more proud of her."

Giffords is undergoing outpatient therapy in Houston for a gunshot wound to the head. She was released from the hospital last month and is staying at Kelly's home in League City, a town 26 miles south of Houston. She has visited Tucson once since the shooting to celebrate Father's Day weekend.

The man charged in the shooting, Jared Lee Loughner, has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges. He has been at a Missouri prison facility since a judge declared him mentally incompetent to stand trial May 28. Mental health experts will try to make him psychologically fit.

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Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at http://twitter.com/.!/AmandaLeeAP

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