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Gabrielle Giffords' first photos released on Facebook

June 12, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
New photos of a smiling Rep. Gabrielle Giffords were released by her office early Sunday.

The photos, which were posted on the Arizona congresswoman's Facebook page, are the first real glimpses of Giffords since January when she was shot in the head during a constituent meet-and-greet in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson.

In one picture, she sits alone with her hair trimmed short. The side of her head appears discolored, but there are no visible signs of scarring. In the other picture, she smiles downward while sitting next to her mother, Gloria Giffords.

Though the photos showed how far she has come since she was wounded, her spokeswoman Pia Carusone has cautioned that Giffords still has a long way to go in her recovery. Carusone said Giffords could be released sometime in June.

"We're looking at before the end of the month. We're looking at early July," Carusone said. "We don't have a date."

In an interview published this week in the Arizona Republic, Carusone made clear that Giffords remains a shadow of her former self as she has difficulty stringing together sentences and relies heavily on gestures and facial expressions to communicate. She also faces some difficulty in expressing bigger, more complex thoughts, Carusone said.

Giffords' release from the hospital after five months of intensive inpatient therapy will mark an important step in her recovery. However, she still faces months of outpatient rehabilitation including speech, occupational and physical therapy.

The public caught a brief glimpse of Giffords in April when she boarded a plane to Florida to watch her husband astronaut Mark Kelly launch into space. The grainy footage, taken from afar, showed Giffords slowly but purposefully walk up the airplane's stairs.

The newly released photos, shot by Tucson photographer P.K. Weis just before surgery on her skull, provide a much clearer image.

In May, doctors repaired Giffords' skull, finally freeing her from wearing a cumbersome protective helmet.

Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the shooting and is being held at a Missouri facility. A judge declared him incompetent to stand trial, but prosecutors hope his competency can be restored so he can answer for the charges.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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