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So before I write about my experiences from Irvine this weekend, I want to share an interesting story from my travels back to the frigid state of Wisconsin.

Well, it actually happened in the Denver, Colo., airport as I devoured a sandwich while waiting at the terminal for my flight.

An older man with a baseball cap approached me and asked whether someone was sitting next to me. Hoping nothing was in my teeth, I managed to grunt, “Nope.”

So he sat down and told me he was en route to Tucson, Ariz.

“Were you on vacation or a business trip of some sort?” I inquired.

“I wouldn’t call it that,” he said.

The man then told me the unexpected. His adventure to South Dakota wasn’t an average trip. Rather, he was traveling to interview with local and national news organizations.

I was sitting next to a national hero.

His name is Bill Badger, the 74-year-old bystander who helped tackle the gunman accused of shooting Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, killing six people and injuring several others outside of a grocery store in Arizona earlier this month.

Bill Badger (source: ABCNews)

I tried to prevent my jaw from dropping to the floor.

Is this guy serious?

I glared at the name on the plane ticket resting in his hands. Badger, indeed. Tucson — check.

All of a sudden, my journalistic instinct took over. In a fury of Q&As, I gathered that Bill was quite resilient and humble about his actions. After hearing the initial gunshots and dropping to the ground, Bill got back up to find himself standing next to the gunman.

He and another man managed to pin down and disarm the shooter, who was attempting to reload his gun at the time. It all happened so fast — too fast.

From those intense moments, lives were unfairly and unjustly lost. Blood and tears, tragically shed.

During the shooting, Bill was covered in blood. He didn’t know that much of it was his own, he told me.

“Want to see where I got shot in the head?” he asked, as if showing me may speed up healing.

Baffling at the foreign arrangement of those words, I nodded. He took off his cap to show me where a bullet had grazed the posterior portion of his head. A four-inch fleshy gash remained. The shot had skimmed his balding scalp and skull horizontally. The bullet seemed masterfully placed — not by the gunman, but by some other presence looking down on Bill. The injury left him in the ER for four hours or so.

Speechless, I managed a smile. I was glad Bill survived to tell me his story. I told him how courageous his actions were, but he insisted it was simply the right thing to do.

Then, a loud voice boomed over the intercom, announcing the final boarding call for my flight. Blocking out voices other than Bill’s up until that point, I knew my time was up — I had to go. And just like that, our paths uncrossed and realigned.

I’m not sure what to make of today’s events. People cross paths for a reason, and I believe Bill approached me with purpose. With twenty-some odd chairs unfilled nearby, the seat immediately next to me was where he wanted to sit.

Somehow, I think talking about the shooting to a complete stranger helped Bill. It helped me, too.

I needed to believe there can be heroes in us all.

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About Me

Marianne is a science communicator working in Madison, Wis.

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