Student who helped save Giffords insists he's no hero

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President Obama joined the applause for Daniel Hernandez Jr. in January. Hernandez was an intern for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when a gunman opened fire at a Giffords event.

A student intern who helped save Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' life doesn't believe he's a hero, but he can't escape the acclaim.

On Saturday, 21-year-old Daniel Hernandez Jr., a University of Arizona student, came to Philadelphia to accept a heroism award at the 19th annual summit held by Equality Forum, which focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights.

Hernandez, a gay member of Tucson's commission to promote LGBT issues, said during an interview in Center City that he did not meet his own definition of a hero: someone who dedicates his or her life to helping others, such as a doctor, nurse, or teacher.

In January, Hernandez became known worldwide after he rushed to help Giffords when a gunman shot her in the head in a Tucson attack that left six dead, including a 9-year-old girl.

Hernandez was interning for Giffords when the gunman began firing at the supermarket where she was holding a meet-and-greet.

With triage training he had received, Hernandez told others how to help the wounded as he cared for Giffords. He raised her head in his lap, applied pressure to her wound, and kept her stable until medics arrived.

Doctors immediately recognized the efforts as lifesaving.

"I just did what anyone else would do," Hernandez told reporters Saturday during interviews at the Sofitel on South 17th Street, hours before he received his latest award.

Hernandez is humbled by the attention, he said. He respectfully disagrees with President Obama's remarks at January's State of the Union speech, when Hernandez sat with Michelle Obama on his 21st birthday.

"Daniel, I'm sorry, you may deny it, but we've decided you are a hero because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tended to her wounds and helped keep her alive," the president said.

Hernandez responded Saturday, "It's hard to disagree with the president, but I'm going to keep doing it because, I think, really the people that are heroes are people who have dedicated their lives to public service and have really made a concerted effort to help others."

Giffords, he said, is a hero.

Hernandez, a political science major, said he hoped to be that person in 20 to 30 years through work that helps others and promotes civil rights. He wrote legislation, passed in Arizona, recognizing that full-time students should be afforded the same time workers receive to vote. He sees a need for greater educational opportunities, especially for children. Reforms are needed to care for the mentally ill, he said. His list is long.

He does not predict his future.

He ran for student-body president this year and lost by a wide margin, a defeat Hernandez said helped free his time, now in great demand. He's confident there will be many more opportunities.

Chip Alfred, communications director for Equality Forum, said Hernandez had been selected for the new award because his actions made him a role model, a mantle Hernandez said he was comfortable accepting.

"He's a role model for young people," Alfred said. "He's a role model for everyone."

Hernandez said that while the gay and Latino communities had recognized him as a role model, it was his desire to help others that he identified with.

"I may be a member of this community . . . but it's not what defines me," Hernandez said.

"The way to get things done is not by shutting yourself off, becoming insular and demanding things. You work with others, you build coalitions, and you build consensus," he said.

Also recognized Saturday were Army Lt. Dan Choi and former Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Bucks County.

Last year, Choi, a West Point graduate, Iraq war veteran, and Arabic linguist, was discharged under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy governing military personnel's disclosure of sexual orientation and advocated to repeal the policy. Murphy was the author and chief sponsor of the bill to repeal the policy, which Obama signed.


Contact staff writer Barbara Boyer at 856-779-3838 or bboyer@phillynews.com.