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Published January 17, 2011, 07:45 AM

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords condition improves

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has surmounted one hurdle after another since she was gravely wounded in the Arizona shootings. Her latest was especially significant — a condition upgrade from critical to serious.

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has surmounted one hurdle after another since she was gravely wounded in the Arizona shootings. Her latest was especially significant — a condition upgrade from critical to serious.

Her doctors' decision Sunday was yet another sign of a remarkable recovery since she was shot in the head Jan. 8 when a gunman opened fire as she met constituents in a Tucson supermarket parking lot. Six people died and 13 were wounded, including the congresswoman.

She had been in critical condition since the attack but doctors were positive, and at times almost giddy, in describing her progress.

She responded from the moment she arrived at the emergency room, at first just squeezing a doctor's hand. Then she raised two fingers.

Giffords opened her unbandaged eye shortly after President Barack Obama's bedside visit Wednesday.

Then, more milestones — which doctors said were all indicative of higher cognitive function — were achieved, all with her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, at her side.

Kelly asked her to give him a thumbs-up if she could hear him. She did more than that. She slowly raised her left arm. By the end of the week, she had moved her legs and arms.

Finally on Sunday, doctors decided to upgrade her condition because a tracheotomy done a day earlier was uneventful, hospital spokeswoman Katie Riley said. A feeding tube was also put in Saturday, and doctors speculated that they might soon know if she could speak.

At the hospital, more than 100 people were gathered amid the sea of get-well balloons and cards when the University of Arizona put out the condition statement.

"Oh, that's great news," said Jean Emrick, a 50-year resident of Tucson, as a violinist played in the background.

Her eyes watering, Emrick said: "Tucson is such a special place and she represents what's the best of southern Arizona."

As night fell, candles at the makeshift memorial began to flicker. A mariachi band played the "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Few people survive a bullet to the brain — just 10 percent — and some who do end up in a vegetative state. It is even more rare for people with gunshot wounds to the head to regain all of their abilities, and doctors have cautioned that the full extent of Giffords' recovery remains uncertain.

Among those killed was Giffords' popular community outreach director, Gabe Zimmerman.

At funeral services for Zimmerman Sunday, Kelly told the some 700 people gathered that his wife was inspired by Zimmerman's idealism and warmth, according to the Arizona Republic.

"Gabby and I spoke often about Gabe. She loved him like a younger brother," Kelly said. "I know someday she'll get to tell you herself how she felt about Gabe."

The funeral followed others, including one for the youngest victim, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green last week.

Her father, John Green, told The Boston Globe some of her organs were donated to a young girl in the Boston area, but he didn't have any other details.

He said they were once again proud of their daughter, "who has done another amazing thing."

Meanwhile, more details emerged about one of shooting victims who police said became distraught and was arrested during a televised town hall meeting.

James Eric Fuller, a military veteran and self-described liberal, started ranting at the end of the program Saturday. He took a picture of a local tea party leader and yelled "you're dead" before calling others in the church a bunch of "whores," authorities said.

Deputies called a doctor and decided he should be taken to a hospital for a mental evaluation, said Pima County sheriff's spokesman Jason Ogan said.

No one answered the door Sunday at Fuller's home.

In media interviews and on the Internet, Fuller, a former limousine driver and Census worker, has said he worked hard to get Giffords re-elected in her conservative-leaning district. He was going over questions he had prepared for the congresswoman, when the shooting began, he said in an interview with the television show "Democracy Now."

He was shot in the knee and back and drove himself to the hospital, where he spent two days.

"I didn't know how to calm myself down," he said on the TV show, "so I wrote down the Declaration of Independence, which I memorized some time ago. And that did help to organize my thoughts."

He also lashed out at conservative Republicans for "Second Amendment activism," arguing it set the stage for the shooting.

Fuller returned to the Safeway supermarket Friday, telling KPHO-TV he had always considered trauma a figment of imagination until the events of Jan. 8.

"Today I'm back on my feet, more or less, and I'm in a combative mood," Fuller said as he limped across the store parking lot. "It's helping me. I've never had any trauma like this in my life."

Later, he showed up at the home of accused gunman Jared Loughner, who lived within a half-mile of Fuller.

"He said he was going to forgive him for shooting him," Richard Elder, 86, a retired medical mechanic who lives next door to Fuller, told The Associated Press Sunday. "If anyone shot me, I don't think I'd say, 'Hey feller, that's alright.'"

The man Fuller is accused of threatening, Tucson Tea Party co-founder Trent Humphries, said he was worried about the threat, and the dozens of other angry e-mails he has received.

"I had nothing to do with the murders that happened or the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords," said Humphries, who was on his way Sunday to attend services for his friend Dorwan Stoddard, 76. "And I wonder, if he (Fuller) is crazy or is he the canary in a coal mine? Is he saying what a lot of other people are holding in their hearts? If so, that's a problem."

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Susan Montoya Bryan contributed from Tucson. Christie reported from Phoenix.

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