Former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords places flowers at a memorial with her husband Mark Kelly before they attend a news conference asking Congress and the Senate to provide stricter gun control in the United States on March 6, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona.
UNITED STATES - JANUARY 30: Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., testifies on gun violence as her husband Mark Kelly looks on, during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Hart Building entitled 'What Should America Do About Gun Violence?' Giffords was severely wounded during a mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011.
(Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, center, is joined by her husband Mark Kelly, left, and Emily Nottingham, mother of shooting victim Gabe Zimmerman, listening to a speaker as they returned to the site of a shooting that left her critically wounded to urge key senators to support expanded background checks for gun purchases.
This Jan. 8, 2011 file photo provided by the Pima County Sheriff's Office shows Jared Loughner, who carried out the shooting rampage in Tucson that killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others.
Gabby Giffords and husband Mark Kelly leave flowers at memorial for the Jan. 8, 2011 shooting in Tucson at the Tucson, Ariz. Safeway where former Rep. G. Giffords was shot in 2011.
Ben Zimmerman, brother of Gabe, cries during the dedication of a US Capitol meeting room to former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' staffer Gabriel 'Gabe' Zimmerman, who was shot and killed in the 2011 shooting in Tucson, on Capitol Hill Tuesday April 16, 2013.
A group of local children place flowers at a memorial for the six people that lost their lives in a deadly shooting last year in the parking lot of the La Toscana Village Safeway January 8, 2012 in Tucson, Arizona.
John Green (R) and Roxanna Green, parents Christina-Taylor Green, speak during a memorial for their daughter at Kriegh Park April 1, 2011 in Oro Valley, Arizona. A 'Freedom's Steadfast Angel of Love' statue created from a beam from ground zero, a piece of steel from the Pentagon and a large rock from the Flight 93 crash site was designed by sculptor Lei Hennessy-Owen and was unveiled to honor the 10-year-old.
Pia Carusone, chief of staff for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., talks to a colleague in Arizona in the Congresswoman's Longworth office. Giffords is recovering from a gunshot wound to the head sustained during a shooting rampage in Tucson in January that left six people dead and 13 wounded.
The 'Freedom's Steadfast Angel of Love' sculpture is seen during a memorial for Christina-Taylor Green at Kriegh Park April 1, 2011 in Oro Valley, Arizona.
John Green, Roxanna Green and Dallas Green, parents and brother of Christina-Taylor Green, attend a memorial for her at Kriegh Park April 1, 2011 in Oro Valley, Arizona.
A flag flies outside the Sandra Day O'Connor federal courthouse January 24, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. Jared Lee Loughner, the man accused of the January 8, shooting that killed six people and wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in Tucson, Arizona, pleaded not guilty during a court hearing.
Karen Lindsey, left, and other supporters of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D - AZ) gather to hold a candlelight vigil at the Miller Outdoor Theatre on January 21, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Giffords was transferred to the trauma center at the Memorial Hermann Hospital for evaluation and treatment, and will begin a rehabilitation program at the affiliated Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research clinic.
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PHOENIX (AP) - Suzi Hileman remembers the attack as if it were yesterday, the fear and gunfire as the shooter unleashed a barrage of bullets on a crowd gathered outside a Tucson supermarket to meet then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Hileman was shot three times while trying to save her young friend and neighbor, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. The little girl was among six people killed in the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting. Hileman and 12 others, including Giffords, were severely injured.
As residents of the city prepare to commemorate the third anniversary of the mass shooting Wednesday, Hileman said some good has come from the tragedy.
"I look at it as a celebration of how Tucson came together, how total strangers saved my life," she said. "I don't forget the face of a 9-year-old girl whose hand I was holding as she died, but we're not looking back so much as taking their energy and moving forward."
Jared Lee Loughner was sentenced in November 2012 to seven consecutive life sentences, plus 140 years, after he pleaded guilty to 19 federal charges in the shooting.
Giffords was shot once in the head. The Arizona Democrat later resigned from Congress as she continues to recover from her injuries.
The third anniversary of the attack will be marked Wednesday with bell-ringing, flag-raising ceremonies and church events across Tucson.
Earlier in the week, officials also announced plans for a permanent memorial in remembrance of the shootings expected to be located downtown at the Old Pima County Courthouse and in an adjacent park. The sites would display some of the thousands of items, including letters, candles and American flags, that were placed in storage after forming makeshift memorials across the city in the days after the shooting.
"Like any community that experiences a tragedy, the citizens want to be connected to it in some way to show their appreciation and understanding and sympathy," said Stephen Brigham, president of the January 8 Memorial Foundation. "Everyone we talked to reinforced the importance of providing a place to go and remember that tragedy, but also a place to remember and celebrate how the community responded."
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild will participate in a bell-ringing ceremony Wednesday morning, one of several events planned in the city.
"The wounds are still there. Time helps, but it doesn't heal all the wounds," Rothschild said. "I think the commemorations are in large part a recognition of our community's collective care and compassion and grit to go on."
Giffords and her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly, went on to found Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee aimed rivaling the powerful pro-gun lobby and, according to their website, "stand up for both the 2nd amendment and safer communities."
However, since the shooting, and others around the country, including the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, a divided Congress has done nothing to tighten any of the nation's gun laws.
Some states, including Colorado and Connecticut, pushed ahead with their own gun-control measures, while others, like Arizona, Giffords' home state, moved in the opposite direction, passing a law that requires municipalities to sell weapons surrendered at buyback programs aimed at getting more guns off the streets instead of destroying them.