Friday, January 14, 2011

Tucson is Mourning

A man prays for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others shot by a lone gunman during one of the Congresswoman’s events at a strip mall in north Tucson Saturday, January 8. 

The nation was stunned Saturday when Democratic Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot by a 22 year old man during Giffords’ “Congress on Your Corner” event. Giffords was shot in the head but survived, and by all accounts is making a remarkable recovery at University Medical Center in Tucson. Nineteen people were shot in a few seconds. 

Six were killed: 

  1.  Christina-Taylor Green, 9, of Tucson. Green was accompanied to the meeting by a neighbor. Born on September 11, 2001, she had appeared in the book Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11.
  2.  Dorothy "Dot" Morris, 76, a retired secretary from Oro Valley; wife of George, who was wounded.
  3.  John Roll, 63, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for Arizona, named to the federal bench by President George H. W. Bush in 1991.
  4.  Phyllis Schneck, 79, a homemaker from Tucson.
  5.  Dorwan Stoddard, 76, a retired construction worker, from a gunshot wound to the head; his wife Mavy was wounded. The Stoddards were childhood sweethearts. He threw himself on top of his wife to protect her. And,
  6.  Gabriel "Gabe" Zimmerman, 30, community outreach director for Gifford, and a member of Giffords' staff since 2006.

In addition to the six dead, 13 people, including Giffords, were wounded. The alleged assassin, a 22-year-old Tucson man, Jared Lee Loughner, used a Glock 19, a 9mm semi-automatic pistol with an after market 33 round extended magazine. He was wrestled to the ground by bystanders when he stopped shooting long enough to reload.  

Memorials have been held, the funerals have started and all of the wounded, except Giffords, have been released from the hospital. Tucson, and the rest of the nation, is trying to make sense of a senseless act. 

When word got out that the shooter was a lone white male many people rushed to blame the Tea Party movement and right wing hate radio. It was suggested that their over the top rhetoric may have influenced Loughner. 

Examples of the right’s over the top attacks abound.

Sarah Palin, famously, put a bullseye on Giffords’ district in the last election cycle,  Giffords’ opponent, Tea Partier Jesse Kelly, hosted an event that included firing a fully automatic M-16 to “help remove Giffords from office.” Sharron Angle’s call for a “2nd Amendment solution” and Michelle Bachmann’s suggestion that some in Congress, especially Democrats, are un-American, it was said, may have fueled Loughner’s rage. But we can’t blame hate radio or the overheated rhetoric of the right. 

Loughner is crazy. 

I’m not a psychologist and that’s not a clinical diagnosis. But his written screeds, nonsensical YouTube videos and behavior while a student at Pima Community College suggest that he was a deeply disturbed young man. A young man who should have been hospitalized and should not have had access to a gun. 

I went to Tucson Sunday morning and stayed through Thursday. Most of my time was spent driving back and forth across the city chasing leads that went nowhere but I was able to photograph a couple of memorials and some of the survivors. Everywhere I went, I was struck by the kindness of the people of Tucson. Hundreds of photographers and reporters descended on their city. At their saddest hour, Tucsonans were unfailingly gracious. Even the families of the deceased took time to tell their stories and talk to reporters they had never met about their loved ones.

Covering a story like this is hard. It’s hard when it’s in Haiti or Thailand or a place where you’re a stranger and it’s even harder when it’s a place you know and people you know (I don’t know Congresswoman Giffords, but we have several friends in common). 

In what seems to have become a uniquely American type of crime, it took just a few seconds for a lone gunman to shatter dozens of lives. Now a city mourns.