Giffords' Husband Says He Thought Wife Was Killed

The husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said he believed for about 20 minutes that his wife was dead after viewing a mistaken television news report that said the congresswoman had been fatally shot at a public event in Tucson, Arizona.

Giffords is recovering in a Tucson hospital from a gunshot wound to the head. The Jan. 8 attack outside a supermarket killed six and wounded 13.

Astronaut Mark Kelly told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an interview that aired Tuesday night that he learned that Giffords had been shot on Jan. 8 when he received a phone call from her chief of staff.

He said he rushed aboard a friend's plane to fly to Arizona, and while aboard the plane saw the TV report.

"I just, you know, walked into the bathroom, and you know, broke down," he said. "To hear that she died is just, it's devastating for me."

More On This...

Kelly said he later learned that she was alive when he called Giffords' mother, who was outside the operating room at the Tucson hospital where the congresswoman was being treated.

Kelly also told Sawyer that he's sure Giffords recognizes him at her hospital bed, since she has continued with a habit of playing with his wedding ring — moving it up and down his finger and sometimes putting it on her thumb.

"She's done that before," he said. "She'll do that if we're sitting in a restaurant. She'll do the same exact movements."

Kelly added that Giffords isn't aware that six people died in the shooting, including Gabe Zimmerman, one of her staff members. He also said he probably wouldn't want her to return to Congress.

"But I know that's probably not going to matter to her. I think she's such a devoted public servant that she's going to come out of this and be more resolved to fix things," he said.

Doctors said Giffords, who is listed in serious condition, continues to improve physically and neurologically.

Also, the man who touched off much of the debate over the tone in politics, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, has been getting so much hate mail that his office's computer system nearly crashed. Workers shut down the e-mail system temporarily; it is now back up.

Dupnik blamed a toxic political environment for the attack, drawing criticism from opponents who said he made a rush to judgment. Investigators have since said that the 22-year-old suspect, Jared Loughner, is mentally unstable and was not apparently motivated by partisan politics. He is locked up in a federal jail as investigators try to figure out what prompted him to open fire at the Giffords' event.

As Congress returned to debate the repeal of the health care law, Giffords' staff was holed up in a bustling office 2,000 miles away, paying little heed to what was going on in Washington.

Five of them were focused on opening the estimated 10,000 cards left at makeshift memorials that have grown exponentially over the past week. Others took complaints from constituents whose homes have been foreclosed on or who are having problems with their Social Security benefits.

As their boss recovers from a gunshot wound to the head, Giffords' staffers are honoring her by keeping the office running, even after some witnessed the deadly attack.

They know how much Giffords would want to be on the floor of Congress on Tuesday as lawmakers considered repealing the health care law that the three-term Democrat passionately supported last year.

"She never wants to miss a day, she never wants to miss a vote," Giffords spokesman Mark Kimble said. "We all know that she really loves being there, but that's out of our hands now."

Giffords' staffers met the night of the shooting Jan. 8 to discuss what to do next, and they opened the office two days later. "That's what Gabby would have wanted us to do," Kimble said.

The office is accustomed to dealing with turmoil.

The location was vandalized in March just a few hours after the House vote to overhaul the nation's health care system. Someone either kicked in or shot out a glass door and a side window, and Giffords' press secretary C.J. Karamargin said at the time staffers were shaken and worried.

Kimble said the office has had no threats or other problems since the shooting -- just thousands of people showing up to offer a hug or leave a card for Giffords.

Ten days after the attack, a steady stream of people visited the memorials at the office and at the hospital.

At Giffords' office, workers are recording the names, contact information and messages in each card to document them and send thank you notes later. The cards will be given to Giffords when she is able to read them, Kimble said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.