Lying in his Tucson hospital bed on Jan. 9, still recovering from two 9-millimeter bullets that had ripped through his body — one through his face and neck, the other slicing into his femoral artery — 65-year-old congressional staffer Ron Barber caught sight of a newspaper that laid out in graphic detail the shooting rampage that he and his boss, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had barely survived the day before. Six others, including Barber’s friend Judge John Roll, had not.
But that front page also held a picture of a young woman with shoulder-length brown hair, her jeans covered in blood. Barber remembered her clearly: She was the woman who had saved his life.
“I just remember her coming to my aid after I was down,” Barber told TODAY’s Lester Holt on Friday. He recalled her leaning over him, “applying pressure to the wound in my groin,” and he knew that “had she not been there, I would have probably bled to death right there on the ground.”
And when Barber saw her photograph, “I asked the newspaper to help me if they could identify her, and they did with some help from readers.”
The woman’s name, Barber soon learned, was Anna Ballis. And last week, he got a chance to thank her in person.
“She came to my hospital room a week ago yesterday, and it was an incredible meeting and reunion,” Barber told Holt. “She stayed with me for four or five hours and held my hand, and I held hers tightly throughout. I really think she was my angel who really allowed me to be here today.”
But there was another hero who Barber wasn’t able to thank for helping save his life. According to authorities who have reviewed a surveillance tape of the Jan. 8 massacre outside a Tucson supermarket, where Giffords was holding one of her frequent meetings with constituents, the late Judge John Roll shielded Barber with his own body when the shooting began.
The two men had known each other for four decades. They lost touch after college, but rekindled their friendship after Barber signed on with Giffords’ staff. The gunman, identified as 22-year-old Jared Loughner, pumped at least one bullet into Roll’s back, mortally wounding him.
Speaking on TODAY from Tucson with his wife, Nancy, by his side, Barber recalled in vivid detail how the rampage began: “My first ... memory is of the shooter pulling his weapon and shooting Congresswoman Giffords in the head and then turning it on the rest of us,” he told Holt.
But when it comes to Roll’s last act of friendship and courage, Barber only has the accounts of others to go by; his own memory ends the moment the shooting began. “I haven’t seen the video; I don’t know that I ever will.”
‘A beautiful man’
Even so, Barber knows in his heart the kind of sacrifice Roll made. “Knowing who John is and the kind of man that we all knew him to be, as both a judge and as a family man, I’m not surprised that he tried to protect me, and I think anyone else in the area would have been protected the same way by him. He’s a beautiful man, and we are just deeply saddened by his loss.”
Little by little, Barber says, he is recovering. He says he was heartened by news that his boss had been released from the hospital and was now on her way to undergo rehabilitation in Texas. “Congresswoman Giffords is a woman of great determination. It’s been my honor ... to work for her, with her; she is a very strong person. She will come through this and we will have her back, I’m sure of that.”
As for his own recovery, “my wounds are healing quite well,” Barber said. “Emotionally, I think I’ve still got a lot of work to do.
“I’m very fortunate I have the support of my wife and my daughters ... my family, my grandchildren, and an incredible outpouring of support from our community,” he added. “We’re so blessed to have a community like Tucson to surround us at a time like this.”