Chrystal Carpenter's job usually involves cataloging documents, documents and more documents.
Now, however, the congressional archivist for the University of Arizona's special collections library finds herself in the field, tasked with collecting, cataloging and preserving thousands of pieces of memorabilia, tributes left at three sites after the Jan. 8 shooting outside a grocery store on Tucson's northwest side that killed six and injured 13.
"The plan was to wait until Friday, but with the weather we have had to get them out of the environment to preserve them," said Carpenter, who was outside University Medical Center on Monday collecting get-well cards, origami birds, paper chains, strings of flowers made from recycled magazine pages, posters, photographs, anything fragile that could be damaged by the rain. "We're doing it in stages. We didn't want to take away everything at once out of respect. People are still grieving."
Keepsakes from three outdoor sites - UMC, where victims were treated; Safeway where the shooting occurred; and the office of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in the incident - will be boxed up by Friday and put into storage until they are cataloged.
"Archiving will take years," said Carpenter. She has consulted with the Oklahoma City archivists, who continue to catalog materials from the makeshift memorial at the site of the April 19, 1995, bombing of a federal building that killed 168 people, including 19 children.
Everything from the UMC site will be packed up, Carpenter said, including candles, bouquets of flowers, potted plants, mylar balloons, stuffed animals, and messages of hope written on ceramic tiles, stones, even paper plates.
"It's a humbling experience," said Erika Castaño, another UA archivist. "You're confronted with all this passion and dedication and love. It's a daunting task. It's a beautiful tribute."
As archivists sort through the memorabilia, Stephen Brigham, director of capital planning and projects at UMC, hopes the community will pull together to decide on a permanent way to honor the victims.
"Long term we're still working on how to approach this," he said. "We're thinking we should have some kind of Pima County-city of Tucson community committee put together with a strong chairperson to help sort through all the suggestions that have been gathered and discuss what permanent tributes should be in the community."
Cathy Kloos, a spokeswoman for Safeway, said that by the end of the week, volunteers will pack up the flowers, notes, stuffed animals and candles left outside the store on the corner of Ina and Oracle roads. Instead of replacing remembrances, Kloos hopes those touched by the tragedy will choose to honor the victims in other ways. "We encourage them to donate, to volunteer, to just continue to be kind."
Representatives from Giffords' office could not be reached Tuesday about questions about the mementos left outside the congresswoman's office on the corner of Swan Road and Pima Street, but in the last week the memorial has been scaled back.
Contact reporter Kimberly Matas at email@example.com or at 573-4191.