June 15, 2011 -- U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, shot in the head in January, was released today from a Houston hospital, officials said.
"Congresswoman Giffords has shown clear, continuous improvement from the moment she arrived at TIRR five months ago," said Dr. Gerard Francisco, the hospital's chief medical officer, in a news release. "We are very excited that she has reached the next phase of her rehabilitation and can begin outpatient treatment. We have no doubt that she will continue to make significant strides in her recovery."
The Arizona congresswoman is expected soon to start outpatient therapy.
"Anyone who knows Gabby knows that she loves being outside," husband Mark Kelly said in a news release. "Living and working in a rehab facility for five months straight has been especially challenging for her. She will still go to TIRR each day but from now on, when she finishes rehab, she will be with her family."
The news comes as the first pictures of Giffords emerged Sunday after a shooting in Tucson nearly took her life.
The two photos, released on Giffords' public Facebook page, were taken before the congresswoman underwent surgery to replace the bone on the left side of her skull that was damaged when she was shot in the head at a community event in Tucson in January.
A slight indent in her skull, along with a shorter haircut, is evident in the photos.
The Democratic congresswoman from Arizona has been undergoing rehabilitation at TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston following the shooting at a Jan. 8 meet-and-greet event that left six people dead and 13 people injured, including Giffords.
The milestone photos of Giffords were taken by a professional photographer one day after she marked another milestone in her recovery, traveling from Houston to Florida to watch the May 17 launch of the Space Shuttle Endeavor, captained by her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.
The photos are the public's first look at Giffords since April 27 when she was seen boarding a plane to Florida.
The day after the shuttle launch, May 18, Giffords was back in Houston, undergoing the surgery to replace a piece of her skull.
The injury Giffords received when she was shot in her left forehead led to brain swelling, which required the removal of a portion of her skull to relieve pressure.
Hidden behind the familiar smile of Giffords in the photographs, however, is the struggle to regain her previous level of communication.
"Her words are back more and more now, but she's still using facial expressions as a way to express," said Carusone. "But when it comes to a bigger and more complex thought that requires words, that's where she's had the trouble."
But also behind Gifford's smile in one of the photos is a particular source of strength, her mother, Gloria.
"I think Gabby derives a lot of strength from Gloria, who has been just a real rock," C.J. Karamargin, Giffords' communications director, told ABC News. "And I think they've become a lot closer throughout this ordeal. It's great to have that kind of support."
Gloria has spent almost every day since the January shooting in her daughter's hospital room, according to Karamargin.
Jared Loughner is accused of opening fire at Giffords' Jan. 8 meet-and-greet event.
A federal judge ruled Loughner mentally incompetent to stand trial for the mass shooting.
ABC News' Gina Sunseri and The Associated Press contributed to this report.