Patricia Maisch had a choice.

She could run, or she could fall to the ground.

A gunman was firing off shots in quick succession. An initial pop, an instant of silence, then a series of pops.

Maisch chose to fall down.

As she remembers it, two men tackled the shooter outside the Safeway store at North Oracle and West Ina roads, pushing him to the ground beside her. While the men grappled, someone was yelling to get the gun.

Maisch knelt over the gunman - and went for it.

"I see the gun. I am starting to reach for it, but I know I can't," remembers Maisch, a stately woman of 61.

The gun was in or near the attacker's right hand. His left hand was pulling a magazine out of his pocket, the extended magazine that would give him up to 33 more shots on the Glock 9 mm pistol. Already, a federal judge and five other people lay dead or dying, and many more were wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.

"He pulls the magazine out, and he drops it," Maisch remembers. "He's able to reach for it, but I'm able to get to it first. So I have the magazine now in my hand."

Had just started internship

Five days after starting an internship in Giffords' Tucson office, Daniel Hernandez Jr. was on the ground with his new boss, applying pressure to the gunshot wound to her head.

The congresswoman was conscious and aware. He propped her up to keep her from choking on her own blood.

"I would ask her a question, and then ask her to squeeze my hand," Hernandez recalls.

A question. A squeeze of the hand. Precious seconds.

Hernandez's job at Saturday's "Congress on the Corner" event was pretty basic: direct foot traffic for constituents looking to talk with Giffords.

When the shooting spree started, Hernandez said he was 30 or so feet away. Instead of running away, the 20-year-old political science major at the University of Arizona rushed toward Giffords.

He checked on two or three people on his way, measuring their pulses, and then made it to Giffords. Having done a medical-training program in high school, Hernandez said he was comfortable around blood.

"Unfortunately, I wasn't able to check as many people as I would have liked," he said. "The only thing I was really thinking about at that time was to treat the congresswoman."

Ron Barber, Giffords' district director, lay slumped at Giffords' side. Barber was shot, but he implored Hernandez to stay with Giffords.

"Make sure you take care of Gabby," Hernandez remembers Barber saying. "Make sure that she is OK."

At a news conference Sunday, doctors remarked that Giffords' bleeding from her head wound was not excessive.

Hernandez doesn't remember if the shooter was still firing while he cared for Giffords, but now in the aftermath, he is filled with grief.

"I'm very sad inside," he said. "The fact that we lost constituents as well as a staff member loved by the community . . . I'm very sad that we still have people in critical condition in the hospital."

Sense of sorrow

Maisch is also sad.

"I feel very sorry for the people who have lost their loved ones," she said. "I'm very sad that Gabrielle is in the condition that she is in. I feel very sorry for her family and husband. It's just a tragedy that should not happen in this country."

Maisch arrived early to meet with Giffords Saturday morning. She knew the congresswoman, having done work for her in the past through her business, Oro Valley Heating & Cooling, and supporting her as a donor and a voter. On Saturday, she hoped to thank Giffords for her vote on the stimulus package, which had allowed her business to hire two people, and to encourage her to fight for health care, among other concerns.

Maisch put her name on the list and then went into the Safeway to shop. When she came out, people lined the pavement.

Rather than reclaim her spot in the front, she chose to stand in the back.

That decision might have saved her life.

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When the shots fired, Maisch fell to the ground and watched as the shooter made his way toward her from the south to the north.

"I could see out of the corner of my eye the gunman shooting randomly at the people sitting in the chairs," she said. "I was wondering what a bullet would feel like, because I was certain I was going to be hit."

The woman next to Maisch was shot. And then the shooting stopped and the gunman tried to reload.

That's when she went for the magazine. It turns out that magazine was faulty, but obviously Maisch didn't know that, Sheriff's Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar said. He lauded Maisch, noting she was the last person in line to see Giffords, but the first to act.

Maisch remembers that two men the Pima County Sheriff's Department has named as Roger Salzgeber and Bill D. Badger subdued the shooter. Salzgeber declined to comment, and Badger could not be located for comment.

Those men are the heroes, Maisch said. She said she was hoping to remain quiet about her role until reporters flooded her with calls and visits.

"I am not the brave one," Maisch said. "The people that jumped the guy were brave. I was very lucky that they were there."

One of the two men who subdued the shooter had been grazed by a bullet to the head. Maisch had been kneeling on the shooter's ankles, but she ran for paper towels to make a compress for the injured man's wound.

Also helping was Joseph Zamudio, 24, who was buying cigarettes at Walgreens when the shooting started. Zamudio was waiting for his debit card to clear when he heard the shots and ran outside, eventually helping to pin down the shooter.

"He was just lying there until the guy who had the gun put more weight on and he said: 'Oh, my arm! You're breaking my arm,' " Zamudio said.

When deputies arrived, the gunman, identified as Jared Lee Loughner, resumed his silence and refused to roll over for them, Zamudio said.

Like the others who jumped in to help Saturday, Zamudio said he didn't think, he just acted.

"Somebody," he said, "had to do something."

"I am not the brave one. The people that jumped the guy were brave. I was very lucky that they were there."

Patricia Maisch, who helped get the gun away from the shooter

Contact Josh Brodesky at 573-4242 or