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Giffords staff confirms delay in death details

For months after the spasm of violence that shattered her world, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona was shielded from the wider scope of that January morning, when a gunman shot her in the head, severely wounding her and 12 others outside a Tucson political event.

Trying to protect her fragile state, staff and family members didn't let her know that six had perished in the Jan. 8 attack, including one of her most trusted staff members and a federal judge who had been a close friend.

Just weeks ago, Giffords found out the truth, beginning a grief process the rest of the country had gone through months before.

Saturday, a Giffords staffer confirmed that, in late July, the congresswoman's husband had told her that those who died included her close aide Gabe Zimmerman; U.S. District Judge John Roll, a close friend; and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. The Arizona Republic first reported those details early Saturday.

Giffords got the news on the victims just days before her surprise Aug. 1 appearance on Capitol Hill to vote on the federal debt ceiling. Her loved ones had been keeping the details of the tragedy from her until she was strong enough to handle it.

"She knew for some time that six people had died and 13 were injured, including herself," said Mark Kimble, Giffords' new spokesman. "In late July, shortly before she went to Washington, she wanted to know more information, specifically about who had died. That's when her husband told her."

According to Kimble, only Giffords and her husband, newly retired astronaut Mark Kelly, were in the room when the congresswoman learned the six names.

On Aug. 7, Giffords gave her personal condolences to Zimmerman's father during a brief telephone conversation, the Republic reported Saturday.

"It wasn't very long, but it covered important things," Ross Zimmerman told the newspaper. "She said she felt awful about Gabe."

Jared Lee Loughner, the man charged in the rampage in Tucson, has been in a federal prison facility in Springfield, Mo., since late May after a federal judge concluded he was mentally incompetent to stand trial. Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges. Mental health experts have determined he suffers from schizophrenia.

Ross Zimmerman said Giffords "still has some trouble with language, but there is no question that she can get her point across and her comprehension is 100 percent.

"When she gets excited or stressed, it's harder for her to put words together in sentences," Zimmerman told the Republic. "That's the thing that she has the most trouble with. She's having to relearn language, and that's tough. She's having to learn how to write with her left hand at this point. And now, she's having to start the grieving process that the rest of us started back in January."