Anna Ballis wandered over to check out Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' event Saturday, only to find a line that looked too long for her.

Giffords' district director, Ron Barber, saw Ballis leaving for Safeway to pick up some beef broth for a roast.

"Ron looks at me and says, 'Don't go away - come back and see us when you're done shopping,' " Ballis said Tuesday.

She didn't know Barber's name then, but she learned it soon. At that moment, the shooter appeared and started blasting.

"I leaned into the pillar, dropped to the ground and got under the table," Ballis said, referring to a table that separated Giffords and Barber from the parking lot.

After the shooting stopped, victims were strewn along the sidewalk where they'd been waiting to meet Giffords.

"The first thing I thought about was the closest person to me. He was the closest one to me."

Ballis crawled out from under the table on her hands and knees to help Barber.

"Ron had been shot in the cheek and the left groin area," Ballis said.

She started putting compression on the wounds. At the same time, she helped Giffords intern Daniel Hernandez care for the congresswoman. She handed him a coat to put under Giffords' head and told Giffords to stay strong and to still her hand, which was moving in a pool of blood.

Ballis, a 54-year-old Tucson native, isn't a nurse or a firefighter - she's a tenant-service coordinator for Grubb & Ellis commercial property brokers. But she had taken first-aid courses and had a refresher just last year through work, she said.

Barber wanted her to get someone to call his wife, Ballis said. "And I said, 'Don't worry about that now.' I asked his name, he asked me my name, not that I think he'd remember it. Then I found out who he was later on in the papers," Ballis said.

The paramedics arrived and told her to release compression on him.

"I got up, and that's when I stood there for a moment or two," she said. "I looked around and saw that everyone else was being attended to."

Freelance photographer James Palka had arrived at the event just after the emergency responders. It took a few minutes for him to recover from the shock of what had happened and remember that he had a camera hanging around his neck, he said.

Then he started snapping photos of everything he could see. One showed Ballis standing up after helping Barber, her mind just catching up with what had happened, her knees smeared with blood. Shipped out via The Associated Press, it became an iconic photo of Saturday's catastrophe and ran on the front page of Sunday's Arizona Daily Star.

At University Medical Center, Barber read the paper, recognized Ballis and became focused on meeting and thanking the person who helped him, son-in-law Gawain Douglas said. Separately, Ballis, too, was hoping to meet Barber.

On Tuesday afternoon, Barber learned her name, and his family began arranging a meeting.

"I was thankful I could help anybody," Ballis said.

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 520-807-8427 or at

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