Daniel Hernandez helped save the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and his life experience is a source of true inspiration in this heartfelt memoir.
“I don’t consider myself a hero,” says Daniel Hernandez. “I did what I thought anyone should have done. Heroes are people who spend a lifetime committed to helping others.”
When Daniel Hernandez was twenty years old, he was working as an intern for U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords. On January 8, 2011, during a “Congress on Your Corner” event, Giffords was shot. Daniel Hernandez’s quick thinking saved Giffords’s life until the paramedics arrived and took her to the hospital. Hernandez’s bravery and heroism has been noted by many, including President Barack Obama.
But while that may have been his most well-known moment in the spotlight, Daniel Hernandez, Jr., is a remarkable individual who has already accomplished much in his young life, and is working to achieve much more. This memoir explores Daniel’s life, his character, and the traits that a young person needs to rise above adversity and become a hero like Daniel.
They Call Me a Hero CHAPTER ONE SATURDAY MORNING “GUN!” SOMEONE SAID, AND IT CLICKED: I REMEMBERED SOME OF the things that had happened over the past several months. There had been a campaign event where an angry constituent had brought a gun but had dropped it. And the door of Gabby Giffords’s congressional office in Tucson had been shot at last March, after the vote on health care. Gabe Zimmerman, Gabby’s aide, had come up to me that morning and said, “If you see anything suspicious, let me know.”
So I heard shots, and the first thing I thought of was Gabby—making sure she was okay. I was about thirty to forty feet away from the congresswoman. I heard the shots and ran toward the sound.
I don’t consider myself a hero. I did what I thought anyone should have done. Heroes are people who spend a lifetime committed to helping others. I was just a twenty-year-old intern who happened to be in the right place at the right time.
THAT SATURDAY, JANUARY 8, 2011, started like an ordinary day. I got dressed in business casual clothes: shirt, argyle sweater, khakis—what I wear to the office. Gabe Zimmerman had organized a Congress on Your Corner event at a shopping center just north of Tucson. Representative Giffords liked to meet her constituents in person and talk to them about what was on their minds, and discuss what was happening in Congress that they were concerned about. Weeks before, I had applied for an internship at her office, and they had accepted me halfway through the interview. I was supposed to start on January 12, when school was scheduled to begin. I’m a student at the University of Arizona and major in political science. But the office was short-staffed, and I’d volunteered to start early.
I had known Gabby for years. I’d worked on her campaigns since I’d met her in June 2008. She’s the kindest, warmest individual you will ever meet. “I don’t do handshakes, honey,” she always says. “I do hugs.”
Gabe had asked me to be at the Safeway market at the corner of Ina and Oracle by nine a.m. to help with the setup. By mistake I went to the wrong Safeway and didn’t get to the right one till nine thirty. Everyone else on staff was already there, and they were almost done with setting up folding tables and a few chairs in front of the store. I put a sandwich board outside the market near the entrance that advertised the event. Then I helped Gabe hang a banner from poles that read, GABRIELLE GIFFORDS, UNITED STATES CONGRESS, and the Arizona flag and the American flag. I made sure we had pens that were actually working so people could sign in.
Ever thoughtful Gabe was the consummate social worker. He was beloved by all who knew him for his kind heart and the good head on his shoulders. He was what we called the Constituent Whisperer, because he had the uncanny ability to take even the angriest constituent and calm them down.
It was cold that morning but clear. Pam Simon, the community outreach coordinator, went into the market for coffee. Before she went she asked Gabe if he’d like anything. But Gabe said no and instead made sure to ask her if she had asked me if I wanted anything. I thought it was so incredibly sweet of Gabe to ask Pam on my behalf. Sometimes interns are forgotten in situations like this.
When constituents started arriving, they had to go through me. I was standing with my clipboard to register them at the back wall of the market close to the adjoining Walgreens drugstore. That’s where they had to get in line. Gabby was about forty feet away near the entrance to the Safeway market. As people lined up waiting to speak to her, they wrote down their names, addresses, and phone numbers. We were keeping track of how many folks stopped by and how many lived in the district. I talked to everyone.
A girl named Christina-Taylor Green was there with her neighbor Suzi Hileman. Suzi signed in, and I made sure that Christina-Taylor got to sign in too, because she was so young and so excited to be meeting a congresswoman. I asked Christina-Taylor how old she was, and she told me she was nine. And I asked her what school she went to, and she said Mesa Verde Elementary. We talked briefly about her being on the student council. Then she said she wanted to ask Gabby a question, but she didn’t want to ask something stupid and needed help. We had information on the table that had been issued, in the form of press releases, on the accomplishments of the congresswoman. Even though it was way over Christina-Taylor’s head, I gave her copies of three different press releases.
Then I went to the back of the line to continue registering people.
Gabe had set up stanchions, the metal poles with polyester bands that are used at banks to help customers form lines. He liked to have them at events so that we had a clearly defined entry and a clearly defined exit. There were chairs against the brick wall where those at the very front could sit before speaking to the congresswoman.
At 9:55 Gabby pulled up in her car. At ten o’clock she greeted everyone and said, “Thank you for being with us on a chilly Saturday morning.” She wore a bright red jacket. Gabe stood nearby in case a constituent were to ask for help from the office. Ron Barber, Gabby’s dedicated district director, stood at her side as well, listening and watching proudly as his boss carefully and adeptly talked with constituents. Jim and Doris Tucker were at the head of the line, but the first person who actually spoke to her was Judge John Roll. He had stopped by to say hello. Then she talked to the Tuckers and Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard.
Meanwhile, at the back of the line, I checked in Bill Badger, a retired army colonel. Although he was a Republican and Gabby was a Democrat, he admired her and knew she would answer his questions.
I had just checked in Bill Badger when I heard what I thought was gunfire. It was 10:10 a.m. For about half a second I thought, Oh, maybe it’s fireworks. Then I heard someone say, “Gun!”
They Call Me a Hero: A Memoir of My Youth By Daniel Hernandez with Susan Goldman Rubin
About the Book
Twenty-year-old Daniel Hernandez is an intern working in U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords’s office when she and several others are shot at a constituent event on January 8, 2011, in Tucson, Arizona. In his memoir, Hernandez describes the events that happened that day and the aftermath. He narrates his personal experiences growing up that led him to a career in public service and his passion for wanting to help people in turmoil.
1. Discuss the characteristics of a hero.
2. What makes some individuals jump to the aid of those facing danger, while others do not?
Questions for Discussion
1. Daniel Hernandez is a twenty-year-old intern working for Gabby Giffords on the day that she is shot in Arizona. How did he come to meet Gabby Giffords? What impressed him about her?
2. Describe the morning of the shooting. How does Daniel recall the events of that morning?
3. On the day of the shooting rampage, how did Daniel come to the aid of Gabby Giffords and other victims that day?
4. Why does Daniel contact Steve and Kelly Farley?
5. Daniel does not perceive himself as a hero. Why does he have this perspective? How does he define a hero? Do you think Daniel is a hero?
6. In the early hours of the aftermath, there was a great deal of misinformation about the day’s events. How did Daniel feel about these mistakes and how did he respond?
7. What effect did the Tucson Memorial have on Daniel? His meeting with the President? Arizona governor Jan Brewer spoke to Daniel at the Tucson Memorial and thanked him for his “uncommon courage.” Define “uncommon courage.” Is the phrase fitting? Why or why not?
8. Daniel reflects on being Hispanic and gay. What role does his ethnicity and his gender orientation play in the aftermath? How does Daniel feel about the attention to his identity?
9. After the Tucson shooting, the issue of gun control and mental health services comes to the forefront. What is Daniel’s perspective about what steps need to be taken? Do you agree or disagree and why?
10. Christiane Amanpour from CNN hosts a town hall meeting at Saint Odilia Church. What is the purpose of this meeting?
11. As an adolescent, Daniel believes he wants to enter the medical profession; however, he later decides he wants to work in the area of public policy. Why does he make this change? What do these two areas have in common?
12. Part II of the memoir flashes back to Daniel’s childhood and to his education. How does his childhood and education influence his decision to become an intern? How does his medical training aid him on the day of the shooting?
13. Describe Daniel’s relationship with his father. What role did his father play in his high school and college education? Support your response with evidence from the text.
14. What medical challenges did Daniel overcome in both high school and in college? How have these challenges strengthened his fortitude?
Questions for Further Discussion
1. The memoir is divided into four major parts: the shooting, growing up, obsessed with politics, the aftermath. These sections are not in chronological order. What effect does this organizational structure have on the story? Why is the memoir structured this way? Is this effective? Why or why not?
2. Today’s media is often criticized for sensationalism. Discuss Daniel’s descriptions of their responses, the interviews, and the aftermath. Do you agree with the manner in which he handled the media? Why or why not? Support your responses with evidence from the text.
3. The Tucson shooting rampage raised questions about gun control and mental health services. Given that even more public shootings have taken place since the Tucson rampage, what steps should we make as a country to prevent these kinds of senseless acts?
4. Daniel grew up in a bilingual family. What happened to bilingual education in his state and how did the change impact Daniel? How did it impact non-English-speaking students?
5. Identify five key events in Daniel’s life that have shaped him into the person he is today.
6. What does Daniel say he has learned from tragedy? How does he believe the shooting has changed his life?
7. At an early age, Daniel has compassion and empathy for others. Where do these characteristics come from? Why do some individuals develop deep compassion while others do not?
Guide written by Pam B. Cole, Professor of English Education & Literacy Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, GA
This guide, written to align with the Common Core State Standards (www.corestandards.org) has been provided by Simon & Schuster for classroom, library, and reading group use. It may be reproduced in its entirety or excerpted for these purposes.
Daniel Hernandez is a 2012 graduate of the University of Arizona who is credited with having saved the life of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords during the shooting rampage in Tucson, Arizona, on January 8, 2011, when he was an intern assisting the congresswoman with a constitutional event. He served as a member of the City of Tucson Commission on LGBT Issues, and is currently on the governing board of the Sunnyside Unified School District, where he attended public schools. He is dedicated to education advocacy and civic engagement. He is the author of They Call Me a Hero. Visit him at DanielHernandezJr.org.
“I met Daniel Hernandez and came away feeling invigorated about America ’s future. We all watched Daniel in an incredible moment of heroism. Now, he’s made a life of service and whether he stays in local politics or hits the national stage, he will inspire America for a long time.”
– Erin Burnett, anchor of CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront
“On a day of enormous tragedy, we saw great bravery and compassion. When Daniel Hernandez heard gunshots that fateful day, he ran toward them, ultimately saving lives. This moving memoir tells the story of how Daniel became the quick-thinking, courageous and generous young man who would become a national hero.”
– Nancy Pelosi
"Daniel Hernandez is a true American hero. I have had the pleasure of meeting him, and it reminded me why I love this country: Only in America can a young boy whose mother was an immigrant land an internship with his Congresswoman and in the most terrifying moment of his life run towards the bullets to save her life. He handled his newfound fame with grace and dignity and continues to inspire people across the country."
– Piers Morgan, host of CNN's Piers Morgan Tonight
"This account...hits all the right notes. Throughout, [Daniel Hernandez] comes across as self-assured but not full of himself, conscious of but not obsessed with his image and his status as a multiple role model, opinionated but not angry or preachy. An absorbing eyewitness view of a shocking event wrapped in a fluent, engaging self-portrait."
– Kirkus Reviews
"[This] tense, moment-by-moment recounting of the shooting spree is gripping...Throughout, Hernandez strikes a tone that is humble, earnest, and impassioned, and his story is inspiring not only for his bravery during the shooting, but also for his commitment to education advocacy and public service."
– Publishers Weekly
“Daniel Hernandez did not become an extraordinary man on that horrible day in Tucson; that’s just when the world learned of him.”
– Shepard Smith, anchor of The Fox Report on FOX News Channel
“Daniel’s now-famous bravery is matched only by his remarkable sense of duty and deep respect for public service. His story should be required reading for young people wondering if and when they can make an impact on the world. The answers are ‘yes’ and ‘right now.’"
– Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO, Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute
“Daniel Hernandez is a shining example of civic duty and resilience in the face of hardship. His story will inspire young people everywhere and remind us all that there are true heroes among us.”
– Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief, Huffington Post Media Group
"The heroic young man’s story will be appreciated by politically minded youths as well as those looking for a role model."