Tucson dedicates memorial site for victims of shooting that wounded Gabrielle Giffords

Alden Woods
The Republic |
Former  U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords speaks, as her husband, Mark Kelly looks on, during the memorial dedication at El Presidio Park in Tucson on Monday, Jan. 8, 2018. The dedication was held on the 7 year anniversary of the Tucson mass shooting that left 6 people dead and 13 others injured including Giffords. The memorial is expected to be completed within the next two years.

TUCSON — On the day of the shooting, the city mourned with photos and flowers, at the site of the attack and the hospital where victims were treated.

Seven years passed. Some wounds healed. Others didn’t. Flowers wilted and people went home. The makeshift memorials came down, and there was nothing left to mark the massacre that killed six people and wounded former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

As they healed, people envisioned a permanent memorial. They wanted a place where visitors could slip into stillness. And on Monday, after seven years of planning committees and fights for funding, they gathered to dedicate the ground on which it would stand.

“Look at what we did,” said Jim Click Jr., honorary co-chair of the January 8th Memorial Foundation’s campaign committee. He stood in downtown Tucson’s El Presidio Park, where the memorial will eventually stand. Giffords sat to his right. “There’s nothing more important than remembering that event, remembering this wonderful lady, the survivors and the people who died.”

There was nothing to look at yet. Monday’s ceremony was a dedication of the site for the January 8th Memorial, a celebration that a $2.5 million fundraising goal had been met and that work on it could begin.

The memorial’s funding appeared in jeopardy last year, when a bill that would have set aside money for its construction stalled in the Arizona Senate. A combination of public and private donors raised enough money to start building sometime in 2018.

Construction is expected to be completed by Jan. 8, 2020, the nine-year anniversary of the shooting.

Often called “an embrace,” the finished memorial will guide visitors below the city, down gentle slopes on either side of a reflecting pool. Noise will fade. Buildings will disappear.

Circling around, visitors will end up in El Presidio Park, facing Tucson City Hall and the Pima County courthouse. A bust of John F. Kennedy, another politician shot in service, stands near the site.

“This is a place where people engage their elected officials,” said former Rep. Ron Barber, Giffords' district director in 2011 and one of the 13 people wounded in the shooting. He is now president of the January 8th Memorial Foundation.

“That was what was happening on January 8, 2011," he said. "People came to meet their member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords.”

Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was holding a constituent meet-and-greet at a Tucson-area Safeway when a man approached her and opened fire. Bullets struck 19 people, including Giffords. Six died.

The gunman, Jared Loughner, was sentenced in 2012 to seven consecutive life terms in prison.

Seven years after the attack, people came to see Giffords again. Survivors and victims’ family members, elected officials and Tucsonans filled every chair in a tent, then the space behind it, then a hill beside it. A man from the Tohono O’odham Nation blessed the site and its visitors with smoke and prayer. Security and police officers surrounded the park.

“It’s a special day today,” memorial foundation executive director Crystal Kasnoff said, before stepping aside for a line of dignitaries and survivors. There were calls for gun safety laws and mental-health treatment, for remembrance and healing.

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Tucson Mayor John Rothschild told the crowd he remembered exactly where he learned of the shooting before hurrying to the downtown fire station. Every year, Rothschild rings a bell at 10:11 a.m., the exact moment the shooting began.

Then Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut, stood and helped his wife out of her seat. The crowd kept cheering as Giffords, who was shot in the head, worked her way up the podium’s three steps. At the microphone, she unfolded a piece of paper and began to read.

“January 8, 2011, changed my life forever. And the lives of so many others,” Giffords said. “We honor those who lost, those who lost their lives and those who were hurt. And the lives of so many others.

“Tucson is strong. Tucson is my place. I love it a lot.”

A standing ovation followed Giffords back to her seat as 10:11 a.m. drew near.

Two men took her place. Northwest Fire District Capt. Brian Keeley and Rev. Joe Fitzgerald stood on either side of a small bell. Fitzgerald spoke of democracy and hallowed ground. He asked for silence. Keeley wrapped a hand around the bell’s cord.

Then Fitzgerald read the names of the dead.

“Christina-Taylor Green,” he said. Keeley rang the bell. Fitzgerald moved down the list. “Dorothy Morris. John Roll. Phyllis Schneck. Dorwan Stoddard. Gabriel ‘Gabe’ Zimmerman.”

The bell punctuated each name. And somewhere in the distance, another bell rang, but in the park nobody could hear it.  


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