By Jazmine Woodberry
TUCSON, Arizona (Reuters) - The former aide who took Gabrielle Giffords' seat in Congress held his first meet-and-greet event similar to the one where they were both wounded last year in Arizona, a step he said was tough but necessary.
Newly elected U.S. Representative Ron Barber drew around 300 people to the "Congress on Your Corner" at a Tucson supermarket, where a line stretched across the storefront.
"It was challenging but I felt that it was essential to do this," Barber said after the event. "It's the first time I've been at a 'Congress On Your Corner' in a year and a half, and the last time was a pretty terrible day for everybody."
The Democratic congressman was sworn in four days ago.
Giffords was holding one of her regular "Congress On Your Corner" events at a Tucson supermarket in January 2011 when she was shot in the head by a gunman who killed six other people, including a federal judge and a child.
Thirteen people were wounded in the shooting. Barber, then an aide to Giffords, was shot in the face and thigh and spent months in physical therapy.
Barber, 66, won a special election this month to succeed his one-time boss, who retired in January to focus on her recovery. She endorsed him as her handpicked successor.
Barber easily defeated Republican rival Jesse Kelly in a district that leans Democratic, and had been walking without a cane for the past two months.
College dropout Jared Loughner, 23, is accused of committing the shooting spree and has pleaded not guilty to 49 criminal offenses, including first-degree murder. He has been declared mentally unfit to stand trial and is undergoing psychiatric treatment at a federal prison hospital in Missouri.
The crowd of mostly middle-aged and older residents of Barber's district sipped free water at the supermarket, which was not the same one where the shooting occurred.
Tucson resident Barbara Grey, 49, said she was pleased by how many people turned up.
"It's showing that Tucson is not going to be fearful of anything," Grey said.
Barber will finish the six months in Giffords' term and will have to win re-election in November to serve a full two-year term.
(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor; Writing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Doina Chiacu)