Reluctant hero can finally sleep

Man who helped stop shooter says Obama helped restore peace
2011-01-14T00:00:00Z 2014-09-05T14:58:41Z Reluctant hero can finally sleepJosh Brodesky Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 14, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Roger Salzgeber and his wife, Faith, were fourth and fifth in line to see U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

On that clear and crisp Saturday morning, Roger Salzgeber chatted with Giffords staff member Gabe Zimmerman for a bit while he waited to meet his congresswoman at a Safeway.

He had volunteered for Giffords in the 2010 race, signing on after the plate-glass door to her congressional office was smashed back in March. He hadn't seen her since her victory party, but a phone call on Friday inspired him to head to the Safeway for "Congress on Your Corner."

"You know, once you meet her, you pretty much feel like you've known her all your life," Salzgeber said Thursday afternoon. "I just went by to see my congresswoman, and my friend. Just to say hello."

There was an area for photo-ops, with U.S. and Arizona flags, where people could have their pictures taken with the congresswoman. Salzgeber remembers a couple who had been ahead of him standing at the flags when the shooting started. The shooter would kill six people and injure 13 others, including Giffords, who remains in critical condition at University Medical Center after being shot in the head.

"I saw, from the corner of my eye, Gabby get hit and fall, and the next thing I knew, just all hell broke loose," Salzgeber said.

Zimmerman was shot and killed. Salzgeber, 61, hit the deck. His wife, Faith, fell backward and through a line of chairs, breaking four ribs.

From there, Salzgeber's memory gets a little blurry. He remembers colliding with retired Army National Guard Col. Bill Badger as they took down the shooter. His knee was on the gunman's neck. He pinned the gunman's arm behind his back.

The moment was tense. The shooter resisted, and Salzgeber tightened his grip. Badger, whose head was bleeding from a bullet graze, told Salzgeber to loosen up a little bit and let the shooter breathe.

Someone else grabbed the gun and was screaming about killing the mass murderer. Patricia Maisch clutched the extended magazine she had taken from the shooter.

"We finally convinced whoever had the gun to put it back on the ground," Salzgeber said.

It has not been easy for Salzgeber to talk about the shooting. He is grieving the dead and injured. He would like to deflect attention from his actions, and has been reluctant to speak about them. At the same time, he is grateful for the actions of Maisch, Badger, Daniel Hernandez Jr., Dr. Steven Rayle and Joseph Zamudio, who came running to the scene and helped hold down the shooter.

"It kind of haunts me, in a way, how everyone around me got killed or critically injured, and my wife and I both escaped," he said. "I wake up to the sound of gunfire."

On Sunday, Salzgeber went to the University of Arizona basketball game against Stanford - he has been a season-ticket holder for 28 years - where the crowd was raucous. He cheered. He shouted. He let things out.

After Wednesday night's memorial service, where President Obama restored a quiet peace to a grieving community, he finally was able to sleep.

"It was that kind of an evening," he said. "Where you kind of left at the end of the day, and when your head hit the pillow, you had reason to believe that things might get better."

Salzgeber has lived in the Tucson area since 1968. He's seen it grow and change, and now, grieve. Asked if he had a message for the community, he paused, and then said this:

"I really don't think this is reflective of Tucson," he said. "At least the Tucson I know. And that we've got to do better. It's not reflective of us, but we have got to do better."

Contact Josh Brodesky at 573-4242 or jbrodesky@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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