Story by Gisela Telis and Fernanda Echavarri
A Centennial Hall gathering in remembrance of the January 8, 2011 Tucson shooting focused on celebrating the lives of those lost that day.
Survivors, community leaders, and friends and families of the victims took the stage to share their memories of the six people who died during the mass shooting. The spree left 13 others, including target U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, wounded.
Speakers honored retirees Phyllis Schneck, Dorothy Morris, and Dorwan Stoddard, U.S. District Court Judge John Roll, Giffords aide Gabe Zimmerman, and nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green in turn, before an audience of about 1,000 people.
Shooting survivor Ron Barber, Giffords’ district director, spoke of Stoddard's selflessness and willingness to love completely, a willingness that led him to shield wife Mavy during the shooting and save her life.
“Mavy told me she saw a smile on her husband’s face because he died in her arms, and she knows this was a smile of love for her,” Barber said. "Mavy says that was his final act of love for her.”
Rev. Dr. Andrew Ross, pastor of Tucson's Northminster Presbyterian Church, recalled congregant and shooting victim Schneck as a woman of strong faith and love for others. Ross still struggles with his own grief, he said.
For part of his time at the podium, Ross wore an apron Schneck had made especially for him and said at times when he wears that apron he finds himself weeping.
"It's good for us to be honest and admit it's not easy remembering this day," he said. "We have to be honest about that."
Morris' grandson, Brandon Nelson, remembered his grandmother as "a great American" who felt happiest when helping others. Judge Raner Collins, Roll's friend and fellow judge, noted Roll's humility and love for other people.
"No matter your station in life, John always treated you with respect," Collins recalled.
The event was hosted by the Fund for Civility, Respect and Understanding, and Collins said those three words “immensely and greatly described the John Roll” he knew.
Zimmerman, “the constituent whisperer,” believed in bringing people together to find common ground, said Dr. Lattie Coor, head of the Center for the Future of Arizona, who praised the young aide's lifelong dedication to public service.
“Gabe was the son every parent would love to have, the mate every spouse would cherish, the staff member every public official would love to have, but most importantly, he is the public servant we have to have for our democracy to thrive,” Coor said.
The event came to a standstill when young Serenity Hammrich and Jamie Stone, best friends of nine-year-old victim Christina-Taylor Green, spoke of their friendship with Green. They remembered the vivacious third-grader as someone "who wasn't afraid of boys or sports or anything" and inspired them to be better people.
Stone joined student council with Green because they wanted to make school better, she said, and to honor Green’s memory, she will remain involved in the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation.
“I want everyone to understand that Christina was one in a million,” Hammrich said. “I know she is in heaven watching me. She’s saying, ‘Serenity don’t cry, I’m doing fine, really, I want you to have a great future.’ She would have wanted me to be the best person I could be.”