The flag, nearly destroyed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, rose high above a small crowd that gathered in the early morning hours Friday to mark a half year since Tucson's tragic Jan. 8 shootings.
A ladder truck from the Northwest Fire District held the National 9/11 Flag, which has been restitched with pieces of flags from across the country, as those gathered held a moment of silence for the Jan. 8 victims. The ceremony was held at the northwest-side Safeway supermarket where the shooting occurred at 10:10 a.m. as U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords held a meet-and-greet.
Giffords was shot point blank through the left side of the brain and is recovering in Houston. She's one of 13 people who were injured that day. Six others died, including federal judge John Roll, Giffords staff member Gabe Zimmerman, and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green. Zimmerman, 30, died as he ran to help his colleagues.
It was Christina-Taylor who inspired the 9/11 theme of Friday's commemoration. The Mesa Verde Elementary School student was born on 9/11 and the national 9/11 flag's first visit to Tucson was when it flew at her funeral.
An estimated 200 million Americans have seen the flag, which will eventually be part of the permanent collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum being built at the World Trade Center site in New York, said Jeff Parness, founder and chairman of the New York Says Thank You Foundation. The group brought the flag to Tucson Friday.
Parness said Christina-Taylor has been responsible for much of the attention to the flag, which is in its final stages of being stitched together. A stitching ceremony to sew an Arizona patch on the 20-by-30-foot flag was held at the University of Arizona's Centennial Hall Friday.
"I'd say 50 (million) to 75 million of the Americans who have seen the flag saw it because of Christina," Parness said. "It's a gift she gave to us."
Parness said the 9/11 flag tells the story of what happened Sept. 12 - how the country united in reaction to the tragedy. Similarly, he urged Tucsonans to remember Jan. 9, how the community came together to show its resilience in the face of enormous sadness.
Still, there was much sadness at Friday morning's event at Safeway.
The Northwest Fire District honor guard joined firefighters from the Fire Department of New York City and the Golder Ranch Fire District in unfolding the flag.
Among those in the crowd were Giffords' staff members Pam Simon and Mark Kimble. Both Simon and Kimble witnessed the shootings, and Simon was seriously wounded. Both were visibly emotional during the moment of silence for the victims.
"It's still a slide show in my head, not a moving picture," said Tony Compagno, a Northwest Fire paramedic who was one of the first medical personnel on the scene of the shootings that morning. "All the people, that's what got me. There were so many people."
As the flag was taken down and folded up again, retired U.S. Army National Guard Col. Bill Badger held his right hand to his head in a salute. Badger was one of three people who helped restrain shooter Jared Loughner Jan. 8. They are credited with preventing Loughner from shooting more people that day.
Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, acknowledged the six months since the shootings on his Facebook page Friday morning, saying that like her constituents, Giffords is healing and moving forward.
"She has not let this tragedy dampen her optimism or love of life," he wrote.
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.