By Tim Gaynor
TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - An aide to Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords made an emotional return to work on Tuesday, nearly six months after he was seriously wounded in the Tucson shooting rampage.
Staffer Ron Barber, 65, was shot in the cheek and thigh during the January 8 spree that killed six people and wounded 13 others, including Giffords, who is recovering.
Staff and interns gathered at Giffords' congressional office in Tucson, and greeted Barber with balloons, banners that read "welcome back" and a carrot cake with his name spelled out in blueberries as he walked through the door.
"There were tears, there was laughter, their were jokes ... people were hugging and embracing," said C.J. Karamargin, Giffords' communication's director, describing the scene.
College dropout Jared Loughner is accused of opening fire with a semiautomatic pistol on Giffords and a crowd of supporters at a "Congress On Your Corner" event outside a Tucson-area grocery store. He pleaded not guilty.
Among those killed were a federal judge, a nine-year-old girl and another Giffords' aide, Gabe Zimmerman. Barber was hospitalized in the intensive care unit of University Medical Center, in Tucson, where Giffords was treated for a single gunshot wound to the head.
"It was an emotional morning. The last time Ron was in the office was the morning of January 8 when he stopped by ... to pick up some paperwork and went to join the Congresswoman at the Congress on (Your) Corner Event," Karamargin told Reuters.
"Since then our world has changed dramatically. Ron has been anxious to get back for some time. He actually told us that he initially thought he could get back to work in a month, but I don't think even he realized the seriousness of his injuries," he added.
Karamargin said that, had it not been for a quick thinking good Samaritan who gave Barber emergency first aid on the sidewalk moments after the shooting "things might have been very different ... He faced a truly life-threatening situation."
Barber, who supervises 11 employees in Giffords' offices in Tucson and Sierra Vista, will work halftime while continuing to undergo rehabilitation to help him fully recover from his wounds.
"The doctor wants him to take it easy and not push himself too hard. This is going to be quite a challenge for Ron," said Karamargin, who has worked with Barber since Giffords, a third-term Democrat, first took office.
"From day one, he was the first person in in the morning and the last person out in the evening ... We are going to have start reminding Ron when it's time to leave," he added.
Karamargin said Barber met Giffords when she returned to Tucson for a visit last month. They met at the house of another staffer. She made no comment Tuesday on his return to work.
(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; Editing by Greg McCune)