PHOENIX (Reuters) - A man hailed as a hero for tackling a gunman outside an Arizona grocery store in a 2011 shooting rampage that killed six people and wounded then-U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others has died, friends said on Thursday.
Bill Badger, a retired Army colonel who was wounded in the shooting spree in the supermarket parking lot on Jan. 8, 2011, died on Wednesday at age 78 in Tucson, Arizona.
Badger succumbed to pneumonia at the Tucson Medical Center after being in failing health for several weeks, his wife, Sallie Badger, told the Arizona Daily Star.
Badger had been attending a “Congress on Your Corner” constituent event conducted by Giffords that morning at the Tucson-area store when gunman Jared Loughner opened fire at point-blank range with a semi-automatic pistol.
He was grazed by a bullet to the head during the spree, but managed to grab Loughner and slam him to the ground before he could reload.
Loughner, a college dropout with a history of mental illness, pleaded guilty in 2012 and was sentenced to life in prison.
Giffords, who was gravely wounded during the mass shooting, called Badger a hero who will always be remembered for his selfless actions taken despite his wounds.
“Bill ran towards the shooter and towards danger so that he could help subdue him until the authorities arrived,” Giffords said in a statement reacting to his death. “I believe that Bill helped save lives that morning. And I will always be grateful to him for his selfless, brave actions.”
Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who resigned her seat in 2012, still suffers the ill effects from the shooting and has focused her efforts on fighting for tougher gun control laws.
In an interview with Reuters a year after the shooting, Badger said the events of that bloody day would always linger.
“I’ve struggled with the emotions,” he said. “It changed my life.”
Editing by Cynthia Johnston; Editing by Peter Cooney