USC alum, Tucson survivor speaks with the Daily Trojan

Jim Tucker, a 1975 graduate of USC’s School of Architecture in 1975, was one of 13 people injured in the Arizona shooting last month. He spent one week in the University Medical Center, just north of the main campus of the University of Arizona.

Bullet fragments ricocheted into his collarbone, cracking the C2 vertebrae in his neck and other small bullet fragments lodged between his shoulder blades. Another bullet entered the inside of his calf and exited below his knee. He described the experience in a phone interview with the Daily Trojan.

Daily Trojan: Why were you attending Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event?

Jim Tucker: I wanted to meet Giffords, I hadn’t met her before and I wanted to thank her for her work. Just earlier that week she had authored a bill for representatives to take five percent pay cuts. That’s admirable to me because that’s leadership by example to be able to do that. It wasn’t very popular with some of her colleagues, but it was a gutsy move. Plus, I just wanted to meet her, she’s my representative and I was just exercising my right as a citizen.

DT: What were you doing right before you were injured?

Tucker: Giffords was talking to my wife and standing between us. I was waiting my turn and being like a good husband, not interrupting their conversation. I was just waiting until she turned to talk to me. I was looking down at the ground and all of a sudden I heard the gun shot, and by the second shot I was lying on the concrete slab. I certainly felt the bullet that hit my right collarbone, but not the one that hit my right leg. When I was lying there I couldn’t even move, I was stunned, but when I looked at my wife and saw she wasn’t hurt, I laid my head back and said: Thank you, Lord. This could’ve been a whole lot worse. Things could have obviously been worse for me as well. I could be paralyzed or dead so I just feel like truly a blessed man.

DT: How is your wife handling everything?

Tucker: The tears come totally unexpected when we get something in the mail or somebody comes to the door. Some Girl Scouts went door-to-door selling and giving the proceeds to the family of Christina-Taylor Green, the 9-year-old who died in the shooting. A neighbor told them I had also been shot and so they came to our house and said, ‘We know your husband was injured and we just wanted to give you a box of each of the Girl Scout cookies we sell.’ As soon as my wife closed the door, the tears came. So the emotions are close to the surface right now. I try to do as many things for myself as possible so I don’t become a burden on her.

DT: How is your recovery going?

Tucker: It’s going well. I’m doing some physical therapy and that’s helping. In one sense it makes things hurt, but you just do it because otherwise things aren’t going to heal as quickly if you don’t. So I just suck it up and do it. Like this week, I can bend my right elbow. I can’t swing it out away from my body because that involves muscles higher up in the arm and those are still waking up. It’s gone from a more generalized pain to a more localized pain that’s a little bit more intense. I’m finding that my shoulder blade is sore because that’s what took the brunt of my pain in the fall to the concrete. It does mean the nerves are starting to work again, though. I have a doctor’s appointment on the 14th to get my stitches removed, and the 17th I will get the bullet fragments removed.

DT: What are your recovery goals?

Tucker: In a nutshell, a 100 percent recovery. I’d like to return to work in about four weeks. My arm doesn’t have to be 100 percent back to normal, but if I get what I feel is a substantial use of my arm and movement, I think the doctors will probably release me to go back to work. It’s a mental and emotional recovery — I have to take it day by day. There are some days where you’re laying in bed and want sympathy but those are coming farther and fewer in between. There are some days where you wake up and want to maintain a normal routine.

DT: How has the Tucson community responded to your accident?

Tucker: It’s been unbelievable. I’m getting cards and letters from people I don’t even know. Just the thoughtfulness particularly here in Tucson and with our church. Even e-mails from people around the country and around the world. To sum it up in one word, overwhelming doesn’t even begin to cut it, but it’s the closest thing I can say to describe it. When there’s a problem like this, regardless of political beliefs, everybody comes together.

DT: Has this event changed your outlook on life?

Tucker: It’s more solidified how I look at life. I’m a Christian, and I don’t believe that things happen by accident, there’s a purpose for it. I don’t necessarily have to understand the why at the moment, but my faith has been a real anchor for over 50 years for me.

DT: What are your feelings toward the shooter?

Tucker: Not harsh feelings, I think more than anything I feel very sad for the way that he chose to act and I feel very sad for his family who have to live with the stigma for what their son has done. As far as the shooter himself, I don’t believe that anyone is beyond the reach of a gracious and loving God. Granted he’s going to have to pay for the consequences of his actions, but I still think there can be forgiveness from God if he so seeks it. The only time I feel frustration is when I’m doing something like buttoning a button on my shirt that used to be second nature, but now isn’t. I’d be less than honest to say there aren’t moments when there isn’t a little bit of anger, but it’s more frustration.

DT: What does USC mean to you?

Tucker: I think it was a time to really crystallize how I looked at things and particularly with architecture, it really helped me to sharpen my synthesizing skills. Although I was a commuter student and couldn’t stay in the dorms or the Greek Row, I think USC is there to educate the whole person. I learned that it’s not just to get an education and have a productive career, but also that giving is a part of life as well. I have a lot of fond memories from being a student there.

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