Gabe Zimmerman Courtesy of office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

In all likelihood, the last conversation Gabe Zimmerman had was about John Deere tractors.

Zimmerman, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was standing about 2 feet from Roger Salzgeber, a 61-year-old man who would later tackle the shooter to the ground.

The logo on Salzgeber's hat caught Zimmerman's attention. The two chatted about tractors, with Zimmerman telling Salzgeber he had a relative who was fascinated by them and had some type of tractor collection.

And then the shooting started. Out of the corner of his eye, Salzgeber saw Giffords get shot in the head. Zimmerman lunged to help the congresswoman and was shot himself. He was killed instantly.

While reeling from the shock of a life so promising ending so soon, friends can't help but appreciate that those last moments were quintessential Gabe.

Zimmerman, 30, could talk about anything. Dubbed "Prince Charming" by his colleagues, he was known for his ability to forge an instant rapport with just about anyone.

And he would help anyone he could, seeing his political work as an extension of his passion for social services, the subject of his master's degree. Above his desk at the office is a turkey the staff made with construction-paper feathers and phrases like "SuperGabe!"

He was usually the second to arrive in the office each morning - just after district director Ron Barber - and second from the last to leave.

He had always been prompt. His dad remembers that the very day he and Zimmerman's mom chose the name Gabriel, his mother went into labor at Tucson Medical Center. The two have since divorced.

So as was typical, Zimmerman got to the "Congress on Your Corner" event early Saturday.

He had organized 20 or so such events - the first of which was at the same Safeway where the shooting occurred. And this one promised to be far less complex than the vast, seething ones he'd put together last year to talk about health-care coverage.

Clad that morning in a blue blazer and khaki pants, he set up for the event with other staffers on hand, many of them gulping coffee and fishing out gloves to ward off the morning chill.

Zimmerman wasn't a coffee person. Diet Dr. Pepper was his drink.

But as he worked with colleague Sara Hummel Rajca, the athlete who played soccer and ran the Grand Canyon talked about improving his diet. He said he might try out black-bean burgers in his quest to eat less meat.

And he talked about his plans for his wedding with Kelly O'Brien, slated for spring 2012. Rajca, a hopeless romantic, loves to talk wedding plans, so the two were discussing possible officiants. A do-gooder to the core, Zimmerman had wanted to avoid a so-called "conflict" diamond used to finance war, so he shopped around for just the right stone for his fiancée and then had a ring custom-made.

Zimmerman hadn't talked to his parents yet on Saturday morning. It was early, after all, although he usually talked with each of them every day. He would answer his dad's calls with a cheerful, "Daddy-O!," which would draw a "Son-ster!" in response.

His last communication with his father showed the silly streak others found so endearing.

The two are big fans of a game called Civilization, in which gamers try to build empires. His father had sent him a message, boasting of conquering Istanbul.

The message back, closing in on 11 p.m. Friday night: "Well done, good sir. Are you gonna change its name to Constantinople?"

Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at or 573-4243.