TUCSON - A year ago, after the shooting spree that left six dead and 13 wounded - including Representative Gabrielle Giffords - this city gathered in an expression of grief and shock.
There was a blur of funerals, a crush of flowers, candles, and well-wishers on the lawn at the hospital where victims were taken, and a visit by President Obama that drew thousands.
But as Tucson gathered yesterday to mark the anniversary of the shootings, what was remarkable was how understated it was. There was a candlelight vigil, an interdenominational prayer service, a ringing of bells, and the reading of the names of victims.
There was Giffords herself, a quiet presence for the occasion, visiting places that have become symbols of the attack (even as she struggles to remember the events of that day): the
Giffords, who has struggled to relearn to walk after being shot in the head, stepped onstage to cheers from the crowd. She limped to the podium, and husband Mark Kelly helped lift her right hand over her heart. After a year in which she has struggled to speak, Giffords recited the pledge with the audience, her words ringing across a cold Tucson night.
Yesterday’s anniversary was marked not only by the traditional rituals of speech-making and prayers, but also by organized sessions of yoga, meditation, dancing, and steel drum playing. There were campaigns promoting civility and community - people gathered at a park Saturday to sign a “Tucsonans Commit to Kindness’’ contract - that were notable in how they avoided any explicit mention of the events of a year ago.
“You have to understand: This has always been a very civil community, a community that has always been tied together,’’ said the mayor, Jonathan Rothschild. “We are a different place. We are a city of 1 million people and sometimes we acted, to our benefit and detraction, as a community of 50,000 people. For something like this to happen was such a shock.’’
Then he added, “Tucson is a changed community.’’
Giffords’s recovery has, by any measure, been remarkable given the extent of injuries she suffered.
The man accused in the shooting spree, Jared L. Loughner, 23, is in a Missouri prison facility undergoing psychiatric treatment intended to make him fit to stand trial.
Giffords’s own political future remains an open question. She is up for reelection in November. Democrats in Washington said that they did not know if she would run again and that they were worried about whether they would be able to hold on to the seat should she step aside.
Her chief of staff, Pia Carusone, said Giffords had given no indication of what she might do.
Giffords has until May 30 to file nominating signatures to have her name placed on the ballot for Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District. In an interview on Arizona public radio, Kelly said his wife would not wait until the last minute to make her decision, and he has suggested that she might wait until 2014 to mount her political comeback.
Carusone said this weekend had been intense and moving for Giffords; almost a visit of rediscovery, as she saw the extent to which the episode had traumatized her community.
Hundreds of people gathered yesterday for an interfaith service at the St. Augustine Cathedral, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson; a shofar was sounded by a rabbi, a prayer was read from the Koran, and there was a welcome from a Lutheran pastor.
Nearly every pew of the soaring church was filled. People sat quietly, some holding back tears, as a bell was rung and a red rose was laid as the name of each of the six victims was called out in the church.
The president called Giffords yesterday to offer his support and tell her he and his wife are keeping her, the families of those killed, and the whole Tucson community in their thoughts and prayers, according to the White House. He said Giffords was an inspiration.