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Giffords bids farewell but promises to return

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ final act in Congress will be to vote Wednesday on a bill that imposes tougher penalties on smugglers who use small, low-flying aircraft to avoid radar detection and bring drugs across the Mexican border.

The Democratic congresswoman introduced the legislation along with fellow Arizonan Jeff Flake, a Republican. It’s similar to a version that easily passed the House in 2010 but did not make it through the Senate. Her office said the current law allows defendants who use ultra-light, single-seat planes to get a lesser penalty than those who use cars or other types of planes to smuggle drugs.

Giffords announced on Sunday that she plans to resign this week to focus on her recovery from a gunshot wound to the head.

Giffords spent her last hours as Tucson’s U.S. representative finishing the meeting she started on the morning she was shot and bidding farewell to constituents who have supported her through her recovery.

But it may not be the end. The woman whose improbable recovery has captivated the nation promised, “I will return.”

Giffords spent time Monday at her office with other survivors of the shooting rampage that killed six people and injured 13. She hugged and talked with survivors, including Suzi Hileman, who was shot three times while trying to save her young friend and neighbor, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. The little girl died from a gunshot wound to the chest.

“The last time I did this I had Christina’s hand,” Hileman said. “It was something that was hanging out there, and now it’s not.”

Others who met with Giffords included Pat Maisch, who was hailed as a hero for wrestling a gun magazine from the shooter that day, and Daniel Hernandez, Giffords’ intern at the time who helped save her life by trying to stop her bleeding until an ambulance arrived.

“It was very touching,” said Maisch, who was not hurt in the attack. “I thanked her for her service, wished her well, and she just looked beautiful.”

However, an upbeat Giffords hinted that her departure from public life might be temporary. In a message sent on Twitter, she said: “I will return & we will work together for Arizona & this great country.”

In her last act in Tucson as a congresswoman, the Democrat visited one of her favorite charities, the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

The food bank established the Gabrielle Giffords Family Assistance Center with $215,000 it received in the wake of the shooting. Giffords’ husband and former astronaut Mark Kelly told people who wanted to help Giffords after the shooting that the best way to do so was to donate to one of her favorite charities.

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