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AZ shooting victims memorialized

Impromptu candlelight vigils and makeshift memorials have sprung up in wake of the deadly shooting in Tucson.

BY JOHN PAPE | TUCSON, AZ | January 10, 2011

"I don't know how to grieve. This morning I don't have the magic pill, I don't have the Scripture; I can't wrap my head around this"

—Rev. Mike Nowak, Mountain Avenue Church of Christ

Impromptu candlelight vigils and makeshift memorials have sprung up across Arizona and other parts of the nation in the wake of the Saturday assassination attempt on U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Suspected shooter Jared Loughner, 22, opened fire on Giffords at a “Congress on Your Corner” event, killing six and wounding 13 before he was tackled and subdued by onlookers.

As Giffords and others remained hospitalized Monday morning, President Barack Obama led the nation in a moment of silence from the south lawn of the White House.

Down Pennsylvania Avenue, members of Congress and their aides filled the west steps of the U.S. Capitol and stood in silence. In cities and towns across the nation, people stopped, stood silently and offered prayers for the victims of the shooting.

The moment of silence was just the latest public show of compassion and sympathy for the shooting victims. The outpouring of public grief began even before all of the deceased victims had been removed from the shooting scene at a shopping center in Tucson.

As night fell only hours after the shooting, people from all walks of life gathered at the University Medical Center where Giffords and the other victims were being treated. Together, they lit candles, sang hymns and prayed.

Tucson resident Theresa Escobar prayed the Rosary for the recovery of the wounded and the souls of the deceased. Escobar said a special prayer for the critically-injured congresswoman.

“I met her several times. She always took time to talk with us, listen to what we had to say. She’s just a lovely person and she really cared for her district,” Escobar said. “I just can’t believe something like this would happen, especially to someone like her. I’m praying she and the others will make a full recovery.”

Nearby, a crowd estimated at more than 200 held a similar vigil at Giffords’ congressional office. The sign in front of the office building was covered with flowers, candles, photos and messages of support.

Two hundred miles to the north, residents of Prescott gathered in the courthouse square in another show of support. Jo Kelleher held both a candle and a sign quoting Speaker of the House John Boehner: “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve.”

Kelleher, who is a vice president of the Yavapai County Democratic Party, said all elected officials needed to “express total intolerance for this violent, gun-oriented way of communicating.”

“When are we going to stop this nonsense?” Kelleher asked.

One of the larger vigils took place on the grounds of the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix. Several hundred people from all walks of life held candles and said prayers for the shooting victims. Newly-sworn Congressman David Schweikert called the shooting of Giffords “a stunning moment.”

“This is someone 48 hours ago we were talking to and teasing, and then you're driving home and hear something like this,” Schweikert said.

Jennifer Johnson, spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party, said the gathering transcended party labels.

“Right now, all we are about is sending our prayers to those folks who are fighting for their lives,” Johnson said.

Sunday morning at Tucson’s Mountain Avenue Church of Christ found parishioners coping with the loss of one of their own, lay-minister Dorwin Stoddard, who was one of the six killed by the shooter.

His wife, Mavy Stoddard, was shot three times in the legs but is expected to make a full recovery.

Jessica Knapp, who works with a youth group at the church, said Stoddard died trying to shield his wife from the shooter.

“He got on top of her and tried to shield her,” Knapp said.

Family friend Judy Norwalk said the two “were absolutely devoted to each other.”

“This is just devastating; it’s indescribable. Dory was a kind, gentle, spirit and those two loved each other deeply,” Norwalk said. “I can absolutely see him giving his life to protect Mavy; that was Dory. They were just devoted to one another.”

During the church’s Sunday service, even the Rev. Mike Nowak struggled with the loss.

“I don't know how to grieve. This morning I don't have the magic pill, I don't have the Scripture; I can't wrap my head around this," Nowak told the congregation, his voice breaking.

In addition to Stoddard, those killed in the rampage were U.S. District John Roll, 63; congressional aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Christina Green, 9; Dorothy Morris, 76; and Phyllis Scheck, 79.

Roll, Zimmerman, Morris, Stoddard and Scheck were all dead at the scene. Green died after being transported to the hospital.

Roll had served in the legal system for nearly 40 years, beginning his career as a bailiff in the Pima County Superior Court and rising to become chief federal judge for the Federal District of Arizona.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts called Roll's death “a tragic loss.”

Zimmerman, who was engaged to be married, was Gifford’s director of community outreach. He was one of the staff members who organized the event at which the shooting occurred.

Little information has been released on Morris and Scheck, other than they were also waiting to speak to Giffords.

Green, the killer’s youngest victim, was born on Sept. 11, 2001 and had been brought to the event by her parents to learn more about the political process.

The Mesa Verde Elementary School student was the granddaughter of former New York Yankees and Mets manager Dallas Green. Her father, John, is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Christina appeared to have also been bitten by the baseball bug. She was the only girl on her Canyon del Oro Little League team and dreamed of becoming the first female Major League Baseball player.

“We were robbed of our beautiful, beautiful little princess,” Christina Green’s mother, Roxanna, told reporters.

Giffords is married to NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, a Navy captain who is scheduled to fly the April space shuttle mission to the International Space Station. Kelly was at his home base at Houston’s Johnson Space Center when the shooting occurred. He immediately headed to be by Giffords’ side when notified of the incident.

Kelly’s twin brother, Scott Kelly, is the current commander of the International Space Center. From space, he Tweeted about his sister-in-law and thanked supporters for their thoughts and prayers.

Kelly’s father, Richard Kelly, spoke briefly to reporters from his home near the Johnson Space Center complex. He said his daughter-in-law was “doing as well as could be expected.”

Kelly neighbor Theresa Collins said Giffords and Kelly’s respective schedules made it difficult for them to spend a lot of time together, but added “they were a very loving couple.”

“We didn’t see a lot of them, but when we did they were kind, friendly and gracious, just good people,” Collins said. “There was nothing pretentious about them. You’d never know she was a congresswoman and he was an astronaut.”

Houston businessman and restauranteur Tilman Fertitta is a close friend of the family, having known Kelley before his marriage to Giffords. Fertitta was among the guests at the wedding. He provided the private plane that took Kelly to be by his wife’s side after the shooting.

Fertitta said Kelly was typically “a pretty cool cookie,” but the word of his wife’s shooting visibly rattled the space veteran. Kelly was onboard the flight to Tucson when he received an early, erroneous report that his wife had died. When he landed, Kelly learned Giffords was, in fact, still alive and responding well to the efforts to save her life.

Fertitta described Giffords as “very sweet, very nice” and called her “tough and smart.”

“I’ve always said Gabby is going to go a long way,” he said.

In a statement issued late Saturday, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said the agency was “deeply shocked and saddened by the senseless shooting of Representative Giffords and others at Saturday’s public event in Tucson.”

“As a long-time supporter of NASA, Representative Giffords not only has made lasting contributions to our country, but is a strong advocate for the nation's space program and a member of the NASA family,” Bolden said.

Officials ranging from President Barack Obama to virtually every member of Congress issued statements condemning the shootings. One of the strongest came from Arizona Sen. John McCain, who is a personal friend of Giffords. He issued the statement from Columbia where he was meeting with Columbian President Juan Manuel Santos.

“I am horrified by the violent attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords and many other innocent people by a wicked person who has no sense of justice or compassion. I pray for Gabby and the other victims, and for the repose of the souls of the dead and comfort for their families,” McCain said. “I beg our loving Creator to spare the lives of those who are still alive, heal them in body and spirit, and return them to their loved ones.”

Without naming the shooter, McCain had harsh words for Loughner and anyone else who may have been involved.

“Whoever did this; whatever their reason, they are a disgrace to Arizona, this country and the human race, and they deserve and will receive the contempt of all decent people and the strongest punishment of the law.” McCain said.

Russell Pearce, president of the Arizona State Senate, put it even more succinctly. He called Loughner “a mindless little murderer.”

“This violence, it just has to stop,” Pearce said.

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