Tragedy spurs talk of enduring tributes

2011-01-23T00:00:00Z 2011-01-24T11:10:28Z Tragedy spurs talk of enduring tributesTim Steller and Carmen Duarte Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

The shock is wearing off, memorial services have wound down and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is in Houston for rehabilitation.

But for many Tucsonans, the drive to "do something" remains, following the Jan. 8 attack that killed six people and injured 13, including Giffords.

So what's next for Tucson? What about the long term?

Wounded Giffords staffer Ron Barber is convinced that out of this horrible experience something good is rising in Tucson.

"Memories of this event will fade, and something else will get in the way, but something about what's going on with this has a different feel to it," he said. In the spirit of murdered co-worker Gabe Zimmerman, Barber said, "The thing we have to do is figure out how we can be of service to others."

Sadly, many communities in the United States have experienced what Tucson did in the last two weeks. In most of them, memorials were built, and other less-tangible efforts were made to commemorate those lost - scholarships, new policies, new programs.

Here some are already starting by establishing memorial funds and making plans for memorial structures. Others are responding in a more personal way, by becoming more vigilant about mental illness or trying to be more civil in personal or political interactions.

People who have witnessed the aftermath of other mass killings in the United States say to remember there is room for many different responses, and some of them will take time to coalesce.

Dave Cullen, author of the 2009 book "Columbine," said many Tucson victims and their family members will not know how they want to respond for years, and they should be allowed that time. But he said that if the community is going to try to build a costly memorial, fundraising should start now.

The raw truth is that people are more willing to donate to memorials soon after a massacre than they are months and years later, Cullen said.

People connected to the Columbine High School massacre "didn't realize that there's a certain window of opportunity and willingness," Cullen said. "A lot of people don't really care about the exact particulars. They want to contribute to what's going to be a memorial."

"Setting up a fund this week isn't necessarily a bad idea," he said.

Array of shrines

Across Tucson over the last two weeks, residents have expressed their grief and hope by setting up impromptu memorials: at the Safeway shooting site, on a lawn outside University Medical Center - where Giffords and many other victims were treated - and outside Giffords' office. Smaller memorials are in people's yards and on the marquees outside businesses, among other places.

Some of them are likely to become the site of permanent memorials.

University Medical Center has formed a committee to consider ideas for the site of the vast memorial on its lawn, said spokeswoman Katie Maass. The group is meeting for the first time Monday, she said. Fragile pieces of the current memorial are being collected now with eyes to some future use.

Safeway Manager Javier Rivas said corporate officials are working with a construction design team on a possible permanent tribute at the site outside the store at Ina and Oracle roads where the shootings occurred. Meanwhile, two memorials there will be left up indefinitely for the community to leave mementos.

While memorial structures are often built near modern-day mass-murder sites in the United States, long-term responses don't always take physical forms.

Christina-Taylor Green's family has established a memorial fund through the Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. The Community Food Bank of Tucson has received more than $145,000 in donations since a fund was established in honor of Giffords.

At Virginia Tech University, where 32 people were killed by a student in April 2007, the building where the massacre occurred has been transformed. A new Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention is housed where most of the killings happened, and is led by a professor whose wife was murdered there.

At the University of Arizona's College of Nursing, where a student killed three professors in October 2002, there are four scholarship funds. Three, established in the name of each professor, take in donations and pass them out annually. The other, called the Nursing Faculty Memorial Scholarship, was endowed and is a permanent fund.

This sort of fund provided comfort to the family members of victims at Virginia Tech, where $10 million in donations rolled in after the murders there.

"The families of the people who were killed got $211,000 (each), and many of them turned around and used that money to establish scholarships or professorships," said Larry Hincker, the university's chief spokesman.

Some pitfalls

There are pitfalls in planning big, costly community memorials, and in fund raisers in general.

In Binghamton, N.Y., David Marsland complained about unfairness in the distribution of money donated to victims' families. It was unfair, especially to children left orphaned in the mass-murder at a center for immigrants there, he said.

On April 3, 2009, an immigrant from Vietnam entered a citizenship class at the center and began shooting, killing 13 people, including Marsland's wife.

"It's very important for people to be very careful about where they donate money," he said.

Now, he said, a group he's leading has raised $153,000 of a needed $200,000 to build a memorial on land donated by the city.

The community response there has been conflicted, said Ed Christine, metro editor of the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin.

"I'd love to tell you that it's rallied the community and everybody's behind it," Christine said of plans for a memorial.

"There was a lot of infighting among the survivors' groups," he said. "It's always a problem when money gets involved."

But people can always take a more individual approach to responding, and many Tucsonans have pointed to that as their focus after the Jan. 8 shootings.

While visiting a shrine at Safeway last week, Elaine Cubbins, 60, a librarian for the Tohono O'odham Community College in Sells, said she's been pondering her response.

"I've been thinking a lot about civility and kindness, and realized that it has to start within each of us," she said. "We need to make incremental changes for the better."

Contact reporter Tim Steller at 807-8427 or at tsteller@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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