Mourners at the funeral of Christina-Taylor Green were greeted by more than a thousand sympathizers who lined North Shannon Road for a quarter-mile south of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.
Many wore white, and many had responded to an Internet call to counter the possible appearance of an out-of-state hate group.
They arrived on nearly 200 motorcycles, on foot and on shuttle buses from area parking lots, some prompted into action by the anticipated presence of a group from Kansas that protests funerals of veterans and gay people. The group ended up not showing.
Many of the sympathizers who showed up wore white and stood quietly on either side of Shannon Road. Among them were 18 "angels" with giant wings made from plastic pipe and bedsheets, who stood side by side in silence less than a block from the church for an hour and a half.
Behind them, graffiti on a subdivision's block wall read: "Christina" and "Stop the Hate."
In the church parking lot, several firefighters and soldiers stood between two fire-ladder trucks, to hoist the 9/11 Flag at the church. The flag weighs 45 pounds.
The "New York Says Thank You Foundation" flew the flag to Tucson Wednesday to honor Christina-Taylor, 9, who was among six killed in Saturday's shooting at a northwest-side Safeway. She was born on Sept. 11, 2001.
The flag was flying at 90 West Street in New York when the twin towers went down. It is the same tattered flag seen in the iconic photo of ground zero.
Pieces of retired flags from all 50 states have been used to repair the flag, which is on tour this year until the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
The flag was to be flown to Atlanta Thursday, so it will not be in Tucson today for the funeral of U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, at the same northwest-side church.
On Thursday, families holding hands, cowboy types in boots and hats, bikers in Hells Angels and Huns jackets, teens, seniors and others were there - most for the same reason: to support the Green family.
"She was such a shining little star," Tucsonan Jean Semington said of Christina-Taylor. "It's tragic. . . . I've lost a son. I know a little of the pain."
Ten-year-old Lindsey Lummus wore white angel wings and a halo as she stood beside the street with her family.
"I came to support them," said Lindsey, a fifth-grader at Quail Run Elementary School.
Jeanne Davis traveled from Scottsdale and carried a large sign reading: "Our thoughts & prayers are with the Green family."
"This was such a big negative experience for Arizona," Davis said. "We've got to stand together now."
Casey Trapp and Katie Maine held white roses they said were distributed by an "unknown gentleman."
"We wanted to be here," Maine said. "There's power in these numbers."
Dennis Bennett journeyed from Phoenix with 55 fellow members of the Phoenix Motorcycle Riders Group.
"We just want to show our support," Bennett said. "And if dummies show up, we want to stand in front of them."
Angel Project organizer Wayne Belger said the Angels are trained to resist provocation by the hate group. Some are veterans of non-violent protest, and all were trained for this deployment in a role-playing session Wednesday night. The Angels surround the hate group with their wings so that funeral-goers do not have to see the signs being carried - usually stating that the deaths are God's punishment for homosexuality.
One of the angels, Ralph Alter, said: "I had to do something, and this seemed like a good way to take positive action."
Alter, who said he has a transgender son and many gay friends, said it was also "something I can do for them, too."
Another Angel organizer, Christin Gilmer, was dressed in white but did not don angel wings. The group discourages people with personal connections to a funeral from doing so, she said.
"I knew Gabe (Zimmerman, a victim). We were very involved in similar causes."
Gilmer also worked on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' campaigns and knew shooting victim Dorwan Stoddard through volunteer activities. "He was very sweet," she said.
After the funeral began, the 18 angels turned and walked north, wings outstretched, along a dirt path next to the road.
They were headed to a nearby home where a resident told them they could store their wings until today's funeral at the same church for Judge Roll.
Contact Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet or 573-4158.