[UPDATE] First Photos of Gabrielle Giffords Released

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- One of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' closest friends in Congress is impressed by Giffords' "remarkable progress" from her shooting in January.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz tells NBC's "Meet the Press" that she had a "wonderful conversation" on the telephone with Giffords on Wednesday.

Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, says Giffords spoke in full sentences and initiated some of conversation instead of just responding, as she had done in the recent past.

Giffords was shot in the head during the attack at a constituent event in Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 13 were injured.

The Arizona Democrat has been in a Houston rehabilitation facility since two weeks after shooting.
The first pictures of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords are released since the Arizona Congresswoman was nearly killed in a mass shooting in January were released Sunday morning.

The pictures by photographer P.K. Weis were taken May 17 at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston, the day after the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour (commanded by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly) and the day before she underwent cranioplasty surgery.

The pictures appeared on Giffords' Facebook page along with a statement by Weis:

"Any photographer in the country would have loved the opportunity to take these pictures, and I was delighted to be asked. I've known Gabby for more than a decade and her staff asked me to do it because she wanted someone who was not a stranger - someone she would be comfortable around. The photos were taken in her room and in an outside area of the hospital.

"In addition to the congresswoman, her mother, one of her staff members and a close friend were there. Doctors and nurses also came in and out."

"It was very inspiring to see how much she had recovered in 4½ months," Weis said. "I was excited to see her and to see her smile. She was glad to see me, was in a good mood, smiling and laughing and seemed to enjoy the experience. I certainly did, too."

Weis, of SouthwestPhotoBank.com, is a photojournalist who worked at the Tucson Citizen for 36 years - including 30 as photo editor - until the paper closed in 2009. Weis has known Congresswoman Giffords for more than a decade, since before she was first elected to the Legislature.

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