SAN MATEO — Rep. Jackie Speier (D-San Mateo), who was shot in the 1978 attack that killed Rep. Leo Ryan, told reporters Monday that even if Rep. Gabrielle Giffords makes a full physical recovery from the bullet that tore through her head Saturday, it will be years before she makes a full psychological recovery.
"It's not the kind of thing that you get over in a week or a month," Speier said, but the kind of "traumatic experience that lives with you for a long time."
On Nov. 18, 1978, at the end of a two-day investigation into the activities of the Peoples Temple cult in Guyana, gunmen from the group ambushed, shot and killed Ryan and four others in his traveling group. Speier, then a 28-year-old staffer for the congressman, was struck by five bullets and was “left for dead” on a jungle airstrip for 22 hours.
“After that, I vowed to never take a day for granted,” Speier said.
The same day Ryan was killed, more than 900 members of the People's Temple killed themselves by drinking Flavor Aid laced with cyanide and other poisons.
Speier put Ryan's assassination, the last attempt on a sitting congressman before Saturday's attack in Tuscon, Ariz., in a historical line with the killings of President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, and the two assassination attempts on President Gerald Ford.
Some commentators have noted that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin had put Giffords’ district on a map and marked it with crosshairs before the November election and speculated that a Palin tweet from last March (“Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America: 'Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!'") could have provided inspiration to the shooter.
But Speier said there was nothing unique in this political moment that set the attack on Giffords apart from other such violent incidents.
"They are all horrific and many of them occur when the shooter is not at full capacity," she said.
Another commonality, she said "is the easy access to a magazine for semiautomatic weapons."
Speier said Giffords was in her prayers and urged others to send Giffords words of encouragement.
“I remember back in those days of Guyana, being lifted by those letters of support,” she said.