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Throughout Tucson, US, bells mark anniversary

  • Updated

In Tucson and around the country, the sound of tolling bells marked a tragedy not forgotten.

Scores of churches here and elsewhere rang their bells in unison Sunday at 10:11 a.m. Mountain Standard Time, the precise moment gunfire erupted last year outside a local supermarket.

"It gave me chills," said Sonya Gutierrez, who was standing on the steps of St. Augustine Cathedral downtown when the bell-ringing began.

Passers-by stopped and looked skyward or bowed their heads in silence.

"It took us back to the day it happened," Gutierrez said. "It was incredibly moving."

Some houses of worship that lacked bell towers, such as Congregation Chaverim, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is a member, joined in by banging on tambourines or blowing on shofars, the ceremonial horns of the Jewish faith.

And in the Safeway parking lot where the shooting took place, a small crowd gathered and rang hand bells to mark the moment.

Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, who put out a plea to mayors nationwide, said similar bell-ringings took place around the country to commemorate the Jan. 8 tragedy.

Dozens of communities, from California to Connecticut, responded by pledging to ring bells, too, Rothschild said.

The mass tolling of bells is a rare event in Tucson, said Fred Allison, a spokesman for the Diocese of Tucson, which oversees scores of local Roman Catholic churches.

In the last 40 years or so, it's happened only twice before, he said: on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and - for Catholics - to mark the death of Pope John Paul II in 2005.

The practice dates back to the Middle Ages and possibly earlier, said Bob Verdin, president of the nation's oldest bell maker, The Verdin Co., in Cincinnati.

Before modern communication, a tolling bell summoned people to a town square or other gathering point to relay important news, he said.

Today, a ringing bell "is an announcement that something special is happening. It makes you stop and take notice," Verdin said.

"To me, it's a comforting sound."

Jeannette Mare, a Tucsonan with a special affinity for bells, agreed.

Mare is the founder of Ben's Bells, a nonprofit organization set up in memory of her son Ben Mare Packard, who died of croup at age 2. Nearly 1,000 hand-made Ben's Bells were distributed by volunteers across Tucson Sunday.

"It's satisfying to honor and remember using all the senses," Mare said.

"There's something about the sound of a bell."

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.

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