VIGIL

Mourners gather by noon at Giffords' Tucson office

Flowers, signs and tears create saddened scene
2011-01-09T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T08:59:09Z Mourners gather by noon at Giffords' Tucson officeAndrea Kelly, Becky Pallack, Fernanda Echavarri and Carol Ann Alaimo Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Tucson was stunned.

By noon, people had started to gather at U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' midtown congressional office, 1661 N. Swan Road. Some brought flowers, most were looking for details on Giffords' condition.

Mary Helen Kaser, 69, was crying when she arrived, as were others, and found the office and part of the parking lot cordoned off with police tape.

Kaser had worked on all of Giffords' congressional campaigns.

"She was such a bright light on Congress. She had such a future. I hope she still does," Kaser said.

Throughout the day, people listened to handheld battery-operated radios while others used their cell phones to get reports from friends watching television news elsewhere.

John Allison said he admires Giffords' efforts to increase solar energy use.

"She had a real open style, she was young. You felt she had potential to do lots of great things," Allison said.

Shortly after 1 p.m., an impromptu gathering of people stood on the corner of Pima and Swan in front of the office. The crowd grew to about 65 people at one point.

Some held signs. Others held up the two-finger peace sign at passers-by.

One sign read, "Don't 'reload' stand for democracy, God bless America."

Another: "Pray 4 Gabby's shooter's soul."

Marty Johnson, 36, held a sign which read, "Don't make this about politics. Republicans and Democrats deplore this kind of hatred and violence."

He decided to write the message after he arrived and saw one that said "Republicans are murderers and un-American."

"I came here hoping for a sense of togetherness and unity in mourning," he said. "It deeply grieves me. I hope this was not ideological. I hope it was a crazy person."

Meanwhile, a shrine of flowers and candles started in front of the congresswoman's nameplate and the group gathered there later started a prayer circle.

Pima County Victim Witness advocates were dispersed to local hospitals, the scene and the congressional office.

Daniel Viehland, a 21-year-old student studying political science was among the crowd gathering at the office.

"It's a symptom of what's been going on in this country," Viehland said. "On both sides you've got this extreme rhetoric.

"I hope everyone takes the lesson I take from this. It's not OK to hate someone just because they disagree with you. It's a shame it could take a tragedy like this to get to that."

Partisanship was on peoples' minds after the shooting.

"If Republicans and Democrats could work together, I feel we could accomplish more in this country," said 56-year-old Robert Bittens, a longtime Giffords' constituent. "She was a people person, she really listened to what you had to say. She really wanted to make this a better country and she really wanted to work with both parties."

Downtown, people stood in silence holding candles at the El Tiradito shrine near West Cushing Street on South Main Avenue.

Among them was Stephanie Pederson, 31 who was there with her young son and her partner.

Matthew Laos, 43, was the first person in line at the Tucson offices of Gabrielle Giffords after Saturday's shooting.

He had attended the morning event earlier and spoke with Giffords about his U.S. Army assignment and shown her an award he had received.

"I was proud to show her the award. And I even said to her that I was so proud she had won this election under the most difficult circumstances," Laos said, adding he spoke with her for seven minutes, then it dawned on him he was monopolizing her time, with some 20 people in line behind him.

As he was driving away, he saw law-enforcement vehicles speed by. "It was just too close to the event," he said, adding he had a strange feeling.

When he got home, he turned on the news, then drove to Giffords' midtown congressional office, 1661 N. Swan Road, to try to get more information on her condition. He just wanted to gather with others in the community, he said.

Military leaders also expressed shock.

"We had a lot of the same feelings we had on Sept. 11. Congresswoman Giffords is a great American patriot who never did anything without thinking about all the soldiers and airmen in Southern Arizona." Col. Michael McGuire of the Air National Guard 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson, who was sworn in as the unit's commander a few hours after the shooting in a somber ceremony attended by 1,200 people.

"Ms. Giffords represents a new generation of principled and thoughtful political leaders that have come to Washington in recent years. We will miss her strong character and good judgment in the Congress during these important days ahead, and we are praying for her full recovery." U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said from the Pentagon.

"The airmen and families at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base are shocked and saddened by the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and all the victims involved. Our heartfelt prayers are with all those directly and indirectly affected by this tragedy," said Col. John Cherrey, 355th Fighter Wing commander.

Mayor Bob Walkup has ordered all flags in Tucson to be flown at half-staff .

Today's vigils:

• 9 a.m. at Congregation Chaverim, 5901 E 2nd St. 320-1015. This is Giffords' synagogue.

• Noon outside Pima County Justice Court, 115 N. Church Ave. The ecumenical vigil for victims of Saturday's shooting is organized by Tom Hill, owner of the downtown Z Mansion.

• 6 p.m. Giffords' Tucson constituency office at 1661 N. Swan Road, at the southwest corner of North Swan Road and East Pima Street. Organized via facebook.com by Zoe Reeves, 18, a Giffords supporter who voted for the first time in the November election.

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

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