When Daniel Hernandez Jr. was about 10 years old, he was interviewed on KUAT, Channel 6, about bilingual classes at his south-side school, Liberty Elementary.
The youngster was calm and spoke in a measured tone, said his father, Daniel Hernandez Sr.
These and other traits have come to mark the 20-year-old Hernandez, who emerged as one of the heroes in the Jan. 8 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Hernandez, who had joined Giffords' Tucson staff as an intern several days before the shooting, is credited with helping save Giffords' life.
Relying on his training as a nursing assistant at Sunnyside High School, Hernandez stemmed the flow of blood from Giffords' head. And he stayed with the 40-year-old congresswoman as paramedics rushed her to University Medical Center. In a photo published in countless newspapers around the world, he is seen walking beside the gurney carrying Giffords and holding her hand.
That he acted quickly, deliberately and in a composed manner was no surprise to his family.
"We always tried to impart on him to help his community and do the best he can," said the elder Hernandez, 62.
A day after President Obama lauded the University of Arizona political science major as a hero, a label Hernandez had already rejected, I briefly talked to Hernandez's family: his father; mother Consuelo Quiñones Hernandez, 52; and sisters Consuelo, 19, and Alma, 17.
The teens sometimes tease their brother for his serious, bookish ways.
"It sometimes makes me mad because he's so calm," said Alma, who studies in Pima Community College's nursing assistant program.
Hernandez's family is proud of him for standing by the congresswoman's side.
"It's nice to know that people look up to him," said Consuelo, a UA freshman who plans a career in medicine.
Hernandez, who turns 21 later this month, was born in Tucson. His father is from Van Nuys, Calif., and his mother is from Nogales, Sonora.
As a child he had a voracious appetite for reading and a vocabulary that amazed his parents.
Hernandez grew up speaking English and Spanish in the family home near West Irvington Road and South 15th Avenue. He attended Apollo Middle School and then Sunnyside, where he was a star student in the Certified Nursing Assistant program and a member of Health Occupations Students of America, or HOSA. He graduated in 2008.
Cathy Monroe, a nurse who has taught for 19 years and who also taught Consuelo and Alma, said Hernandez is a mature thinker who is motivated to succeed.
"He has that internal drive to learn," she said.
As a member of HOSA, Hernandez participated in state and national competitions, preparing rigorously in different categories, Monroe added.
"He is very secure in who he is," she added.
That comes across in talking to Hernandez or seeing him at the McKale Center memorial, speaking in front of a capacity crowd, with millions more watching on television.
While UA students returned to classes Thursday, Hernandez did not. He said he'll probably return after this week.
He'll also return to Giffords' office to continue his work as an intern. He believes in public service, using government to improve people's lives.
Ernesto Portillo Jr. is editor of La Estrella de Tucsón. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 520-573-4187.