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Thousands give Giffords a warm welcome at vigil

Thousands give Giffords a warm welcome at vigil

Across city, memorials, a vigil bring a sense of togetherness

  • Updated

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.

Watching the congresswoman holding her hand to her heart Sunday evening and reciting 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.

Giffords aide Ron Barber emceed the event and announced Giffords would lead the pledge.

"Welcome home, congresswoman," he said to loud applause from the crowd.

By the time Giffords said the words, "and liberty and justice for all," her face had broken into a grin.

As Giffords smiled, some of those closest to the congresswoman wiped away tears. Her entire staff sat near the front of a seating area, as did her parents, Spencer and Gloria Giffords.

"The despair we felt a year ago was replaced with such hope tonight," said C.J. 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 estimated 3,500 Tucsonans who came to the University of Arizona Mall to see her.

The Tucson Symphony Orchestra and the Tucson Symphony Orchestra choir performed throughout most of the vigil, which focused on remembering the lives that were lost - Christina-Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, U.S. Judge John M. Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard and Gabriel 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 lighted for all of those who were shot as the orchestra played "Hymn to the Fallen." The candles burned throughout the service. Audience members received glow sticks, which they turned on after the candlelighting.

"We are the love of the community that Gabe Zimmerman lived for. We are the kindness of Phyllis Schneck. We are the work ethic and sense of fairness of Judge John Roll," Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild told those gathered. "We are the commitment Dorothy and George Morris and Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard showed to each other. And most of all, we are the hope that is embodied in the spirit of Christina-Taylor Green.

The 41-year-old congresswoman sat between her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, and her rabbi, Stephanie Aaron. Her favorite band, Calexico, played one of her favorite songs, "Crystal Frontier," and Giffords moved to the music with Kelly and Aaron as they sang. Giffords' right arm appears to still have limited motion from her injury, and when she clapped, she often would take her husband's hand and clap with him.

The service included speeches from Kelly, University of Arizona President Eugene Sander, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett, Dr. Peter Rhee, the chief trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona Medical Center who treated some of those who were shot, including Giffords.

"We're so looking forward to having you back," Rhee said to Giffords, which drew cheers from the crowd. "Those of us in medicine get our fuel from seeing people get back in the saddle again."

Barber emphasized that the event was a remembrance and celebration of the lives that were lost, but also a "gift of thanks" to the Tucson community.

Earlier in the day, a two-hour tribute and reflection on those who lost their lives last Jan. 8 culminated with a standing ovation 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.

"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.' "

"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," he said of Christina-Taylor.

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.

Those who spoke included Jan. 8 survivor Pat Maisch and U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Colorado and the son of former U.S. Rep. Morris Udall. The speakers noted local and national strides to improve civility since the shooting.

But there's still more to be done, they stressed. The UA's Institute for Civil Discourse, which was created in the wake of the shooting, issued a statement Sunday:

"As our nation pauses to reflect at this time, let us also acknowledge the critical need for constructive dialogue and deliberation from our leaders."

During the vigil, Kelly emphasized the pain of "new realities" - of saying goodbye to people who were lost and to "dreams for our family's future that we'll just have to let go." And he spoke about weaknesses in the mental health system, too.

"There is also the pain of knowing that with adequate mental health intervention and treatment that we may not be here tonight," he said.

But even with the painful realities, there is still strength, he said, noting the "citizen heroes" who were instrumental in preventing more casualties by taking down the shooter last Jan. 8.

"We need you, Gabby! We love you!" crowd members yelled as Giffords left the stage after the vigil had finished.


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