TUCSON – In a state now famous for discriminating against Hispanics, a young man has shown the nation the strength and courage a Mexican American can have in the line of fire.
Daniel Hernández, 20, is being hailed throughout the nation for his role Jan. 8 in saving the life of Congresswoman Gabriella Gifford when he provided first aid to the 40-year-old congresswoman who had been shot in the head.
A memorial for the massacre that claimed six lives and left 13 others wounded was held on Jan.12 at the University of Arizona. More than 14,000 persons attended the commemoration, including President Obama, who personally acknowledged Hernández’s heroism and thanked him.
“We are grateful to Daniel Hernández, a volunteer in Gabby’s office. And Daniel, I’m sorry. You may deny it, but we have decided
you are a hero, because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive,” said the President.
Hernández, a political science major at the university, humbly denied the title granted to him by the media and the President, saying that the real heroes are public servants like Giffords, her district director Ron Barber and Federal Judge John Roll, who was one of the victims killed, at age 63, in the shooting.
Hernández stated in later interviews his belief in public service and that government can be used to improve people’s lives. Hernández’ mother, Consuelo Quiñones Hernández, 52, born in Nogales, Mexico, moved to the United States 22 years ago.
During an interview with host Jorge Ramos on Univisión’s Al Punto, she said she always taught her son and daughters Consuelo, 19, and Alma, 17, the importance of helping those in need. She was not surprised by the way her son reacted, she said.
Hernández ran to Giffords’ aid when he heard shots being fired, fearing that she would most likely have been the target of the attack. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, was quickly apprehended at the scene after his rampage. He is charged with five federal counts.
Hernández described his own actions in one interview, “I tuned everything out and started going into critical-thinking mode, which was what you need to get whoever’s still alive some help until EMTs arrive.”
He found the congresswoman lying prone with her head wound bleeding. He quickly picked her up and held her in an upright position to prevent her from chocking on her own blood. He tried to stop the bleeding by using his hands until employees from a nearby store brought him some butcher smocks.
“Once the emergency services had arrived, I tried to attend to her emotional needs. I tried to let her know that she was still there by holding her hand, making sure she knew that she was going to be all right,” he related.
Ramos called Hernández unmistakably the most popular Hispanic in the United States at the moment. He was interviewed more than 200 times in the week following the tragedy, impressing all who hear his story with his selflessness and valor.
Editor’s note: This column was previously published on Hispanic Link News Service.