One year to the day after she was shot through the brain in an assassination attempt, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords led thousands of Tucsonans in saying the pledge of allegiance in a loud, confident voice.
Watching the congresswoman holding her hand to her heart tonight and recite the pledge was an unexpected part of a candlelight vigil to honor the 19 people who were shot in Tucson last Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 13 others, including Giffords, were injured.
“The despair we felt a year ago was replaced with such hope tonight,” said CJ Karamargin, who was the spokesman for Giffords last Jan. 8 when the shooting occurred. “I would have never believed we would be seeing what we did here tonight.”
Indeed, while the mood at the event was one of remembrance for the lives that were lost, Giffords’ appearance added some levity and enthusiasm from the more than 2,000 Tucsonans who came to the University of Arizona Mall to see her.
The 41-year-old congresswoman sat between her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and her rabbi, Stephanie Aaron. She wore black pants, a black turtleneck, a maroon jacket and a bright, red scarf. Her favorite band, Calexico, played one of her favorite songs - Crystal Frontier, and Giffords moved to the music with Kelly and Aaron.
“We need you Gabby! We love you!” crowd members yelled as she left the stage after the vigil had finished.
Though she was about to get into a waiting car behind the stage, she turned to Kelly and then stepped out from behind the car door and smile to the crowd being held behind a security fence.
“Gab-by, Gab-by! Come back!,” they shouted.
She smiled and looked the crowd over and then gave a big wave with her left hand.
Her right arm appears to still have limited motion from her injury.
The Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra choir played throughout most of the vigil, which focused on remembering the lives that were lost - Christina-Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, Federal Judge John M. Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard and Gabe Zimmerman.
The 13 people injured were also honored - Bill Badger, Ron Barber, Ken Dorushka, James Eric Fuller, Randy Gardner, Suzi Hileman, George Morris, Mary Reed, Pam Simon, Mavanell “Mavy” Stoddard, James Tucker, Kenneth Veeder and Giffords.
Nineteen white candles were lit for all of those who were shot. They burned throughout a service that included speeches from Kelly, University of Arizona president Eugene Sander, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Dr. Peter Rhee, the chief trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona Medical Center who treated some of those who were shot, including Giffords.
Barber emceed the event, which he emphasized was a remembrance, but also a, “gift of thanks” to the Tucson community. He said the community has not allowed itself to be defined by the shoting tragedy.
Earlier in the day, a two-hour tribute and reflection on those who lost their lives last Jan. 8 culminated when two well-spoken fourth graders paid tribute to their "friend for eternity."
Serenity Hammrich and Jamie Stone received a standing ovation from the audience at the University of Arizona's Centennial Hall.
Christina-Taylor Green had befriended each of the girls by approaching them, when they were feeling alone. Christina-Taylor, a 9-year-old third grader at Mesa Verde Elementary School, was the youngest of the six victims who died Jan. 8.
“I was pretty scared. I didn't know anyone and I was too shy to say anything to anyone,” Serenity told the crowd. “When I saw Christina across the playground I just stared at her because she looked just like me, only taller. I was still staring at her when she walked up to me and said, 'Do you want to be friends? I said yes.'”
Christina-Taylor showed Serenity around the school and helped her to feel less scared.
She also helped her friend overcome a fear of kickball.
“She wasn't afraid of boys or sports or anything,” Serenity said.
Jamie said she was alone on the schoolbus on her way to kindergarten when Christina-Taylor asked if she could sit next to her.
“We talked for the entire bus ride and became friends right away. From that day on we made sure we sat next to each other on the bus everyday,” Jamie said.
The three girls played Wii, swam, and sang songs by Taylor Swift and Hannah Montana. One of their favorite songs was "Evacuate the Dancefloor" by the German group Cascada. They'd sing and dance to it for hours.
They sang in their school chorus, joined student council, and lay on their backs and looked at the clouds.The picked flowers that they put in their hair and looked for four-leaf clovers.
Christina-Taylor told them if they each found a two-leaf clover and put them together it would be the best luck of all - it would mean they were best friends for eternity. They put a lot of two leaf clovers together.
They spoke about how difficult it was to lose their friend, and how they are both committed to living up to their potential in her honor.
“I know Christina is watching me and I know she is still here with me,” Jamie said.
“I am glad to know that one day she will be reunited with everyone she knew,” Serenity said.
Both girls said they weren't just friends with Christina-Taylor, they were like sisters.
“This young lady was about to change the world with everything she did,” said Dr. Richard Carmona, a Tucson resident and former U.S. Surgeon General of the U.S. who hosted the Centennial Hall event.
“She was unstoppable.”
Carmona said the shooting took the lives of “six good people.” He applauded the community for thriving through a terrible tragedy, and for coming out whole and stronger.
The event was hosted by the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, which was founded by Barber while he was in intensive care recovering from two serious gunshot wounds.
Read more in tomorrow's Arizona Daily Star.