TUCSON, Ariz. — Veteran paramedic Tony Compagno stepped off Engine 30 and into hell: Panicked people rushed his crew, trying to pull them toward the injured, while three men desperately gave chest compressions to a 9-year-old girl.
Others cried out ‘‘Giffords! Giffords!’’ and pointed to a woman lying unconscious with a gunshot wound to the head. Several other bodies were already covered with sheets.
Compagno and other paramedics on the first three engine trucks to respond to the mass shooting at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ Jan. 8 meet-and-greet event recounted Saturday the scene that unfolded a week earlier as they rushed to count and triage the victims.
Randy Larson, 57, came by to shop but instead found himself sitting quietly on the curb choking back tears.
‘‘I wanted to come here now and see it now and not two weeks later when it’s just a grocery store. I honestly kind of thought, ‘Well, I’ll come and patronize them and shop’ but it’s really hard to, because by doing that it’s going about your day as usual,’’ said Larson, who runs a sandwich shop in the same shopping center.
‘‘I can’t come here and go about my day as usual,’’ he said. ‘‘Why should it be usual for me when it’s not for the victims?’’
Elsewhere in town, an organization called Crossroads of the West held a gun show, one of many it hosts in several Western states. An estimated crowd of 4,000 showed up on the balmy Saturday.
Also, Pima Community College released a video in response to a Los Angeles Times public records request that shows suspected shooter Jared Loughner, 22, giving an improvised nighttime campus tour and rambling about free speech and the Constitution.
Loughner’s voice provides an angry narration that includes statments such as, ‘‘I’m gonna be homeless because of this school.’’ College officials confirmed that the video, discovered on YouTube, led them to suspend Loughner from school Sept. 29.
On Saturday, however, Compagno and fellow paramedics focused on their memories of the carnage.
Compagno said he first came upon a woman lying unconscious on the ground in a pool of blood — he still doesn’t know who she was — and immediately realized the established system of triaging patients with color-coded tags would take too long.
As his colleague directed all the walking wounded and uninjured to leave, Compagno and his engineer, Kyle Canty, realized Giffords and 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green were the most critical victims still alive.
‘‘I started counting and my mind, it was hard to remember what I was counting because of chaos there was. I counted, I forgot what I was counting, I went back really quick and counted again,’’ Compagno said. ‘‘I have no idea of the time that went by, I have no idea how long it took me.’’