The first photos of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords since she was shot in the head in a mass shooting in Tucson about five months ago were released early Sunday.
The photos were posted by her aides on her public Facebook page.
Both pictures show the congresswoman outside. In one she is alone and smiling at the camera, her hair trimmed short with the skin on the side of her head slightly disclored but with no clear sign of any scarring. In the other, she is sitting with a woman who is unidentified.
Giffords was admitted to a Houston rehab facility about two weeks after the Jan. 8 shooting. Six people were killed and 13 were injured, including Giffords.
Since the shooting, the only time the public was able to glimpse Giffords was April 27 as she boarded a plane to Florida to watch astronaut husband Mark Kelly launch into space. The grainy footage showed Giffords slowly but purposefully walking up the airplane's stairs.
The newly released photos, professionally shot, provide a much clearer image. They were taken before Giffords underwent surgery to replace a piece of her skull removed shortly after the shooting to allow her brain to swell.
Last month as Kelly was orbiting Earth, doctors repaired Giffords's skull, finally freeing her from wearing a cumbersome protective helmet that her staff members say she hated.
The photos give little indication of Giffords's cognitive progress — what, for example, her speech is like after being shot in the left side of the head that controls communication.
Since the shooting, Giffords has made remarkable strides, requesting her favorite foods, singing her favorite songs, and relearning how to walk and talk, although she struggles to string sentences together.
In an interview with the Arizona Republic published Thursday, Giffords's chief of staff Pia Carusone said Giffords's limited speaking ability has led her to rely primarily on facial expressions and hand gestures to communicate.
'She's able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But, when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that's where she's had the trouble.' —Gabrielle Giffords' Chief of Staff Pia Carusone
"She is borrowing upon other ways of communicating. Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express. Pointing. Gesturing," Carusone said. "Add it all together and she's able to express the basics of what she wants or needs. But, when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that's where she's had the trouble."
Carusone also said that if Giffords's recovery were to plateau now, "it would not be nearly the quality of life she had before."
"All that we can hope for is that she won't plateau today and that she'll keep going and that when she does plateau, it will be at a place far away from here," she said.
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the shooting and is being held at a Missouri facility. A judge declared him incompetent to stand trial, but prosecutors hope his competency can be restored so he can answer for the charges.