Sunday, January 9, 2011

Terror in Arizona: The People Behind The Headlines

As we're still trying to make sense of what happened yesterday, we should remember the real human toll of this horrid act of domestic terrorism. We now know more about the victims slain yesterday...

Christina Greene, 9,who was born in Maryland on 9/11. She was featured in a book called "Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11". A neighbor took her to the event, thinking the girl would enjoy it. We're told the neighbor was also shot.

Gabriel Zimmerman, 30, was recently engaged to be married, was Giffords' director of community outreach. He graduated from University High School in 1998 where he was active in student government. A vigil was held tonight by his friends who described him as "caring," "motivated," "a free spirit," and "a man who understood how to live life"

U.S. District Judge John Roll, 63, earned his law degree from UA in 1972. Roll was nominated to the federal bench in 1991, and has been the chief judge of the district of Arizona since 2006.

Dorwin Stoddard, 76, was a church volunteer. When the shooting started, Dorwin tried to protect his wife by laying on top of her when the shooting started. She was wounded in the attack.

Others killed:

Dorthy Morris, 76
Phyllis Scheck, 79

These people come from various walks of life, and were at that suburban Tucson strip mall yesterday for various reasons.

There was federal judge John Roll, known for his dedication to his country, his state of Arizona, and the law.

And there was Gabe Zimmerman, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' director of community outreach. Two other Giffords aides were also injured by yesterday's attack, but are expected to recover.

Gabe Zimmerman was chatting with constituents in the line to speak with U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when the first shots rang out.

Zimmerman, one of five staffers and two interns at the "Congress on Your Corner" event, was killed by a gunman who opened fire on Giffords before spraying the crowd with bullets.

Two other Giffords staffers, district director Ron Barber and community-outreach worker Pam Simon, also were injured in the shooting, but are expected to recover. All three were part of a loyal core of Giffords staffers who have been with the congresswoman since she first went to Washington, D.C., Giffords' spokesman C.J. Karamargin said.

As director of community outreach, Zimmerman had organized the event.

"He was asking them what they needed," said Mark Kimble, a speech writer standing a few feet away.

Zimmerman, a 30-year-old social worker with a master's degree, brought compassion to his job.

"Gabe was a master at dealing with people," Karamargin said. "He truly cared about helping people. There were no politics involved in this." [...]

Michael McNulty, a Tucson attorney who chaired Giffords' campaigns since she first ran for the state House, said Zimmerman was "as close to a purely good human being as I've ever known. He worked tirelessly to solve people's problems."

And there was Christina Taylor Greene, a 9 year old girl who already had a strange association with another sad day of terrorism.

The 9-year-old girl who died is Christina Green, says her uncle Greg Segalini. A neighbor was going to Saturday's event and invited Christina along because she thought she would enjoy it.

"The next thing you know this happened. How do you prepare for something like this. My little niece got killed-took one on the chest and she is dead," Segalini said outside the girl's house.

Christina had just been elected to the student council at her school. The event, held outside a Safeway supermarket north of Tucson, was an opportunity for constituents to meet Giffords and talk about any concerns they had related to the federal government.

Christina was involved in many activities, from ballet to baseball, Segalini said.

"She was real special and real sweet," Segalini said.

But even amidst the unfettered evil and hate that was brutally unleashed yesterday, there were also a few courageous American heroes.

Daniel Hernandez Jr., a 20-year-old University of Arizona student who’d been working as an intern for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords for only five days, is being credited with saving her life after she was shot on Saturday.
Hernandez, who confirmed that he is gay in an interview with Instant Tea on Sunday morning, is a member of theCity of Tucson Commission on Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Issues. “She’s been a great ally to the LGBT community,” Hernandez said of Giffords during the brief interview across a bad connection.
According to the Arizona Republic, Hernandez was standing about 30 feet from Giffords during the “Congress on Your Corner” event outside a Safeway store near Tucson. When the gunshots began, Hernandez ran toward them and began checking the pulses of people who’d been hit. When Hernandez got to Giffords, he used his hand to apply pressure to the entry wound on her forehead.  He pulled her into his lap and held her upright so she wouldn’t choke on her blood.

Daniel Hernandez is shown with Giffords in this image from his Facebook page.
Hernandez used his hand to apply pressure to the wound until someone brought clean smocks from the meat department of the grocery store. He stayed with Giffords until paramedics arrived, then climbed into an ambulance with her. On the way to the hospital, he squeezed her hand and she squeezed back.

Thank goodness Daniel Hernandez was there, and thank goodness he knew what to do.

He waited at the hospital while she went into surgery. He needed to tell police what had happened. He overheard people walking by talking about how Giffords had died. He also heard this on NPR. Later, he learned she had lived.

"I was ecstatic," he said. "She was one of the people I've looked up to. Knowing she was alive and still fighting was good news. She's definitely a fighter, whether for her own life, or standing up for people in southern Arizona."

The fact that Hernandez was nearby and able to react quickly probably saved Giffords' life, said state Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and a hospital physician. He talked to Hernandez at the hospital after the shooting.

Eight hours after the shooting, Hernandez stood with Giffords' friends and staff and told them what had happened. The tall, strong 20-year-old said, "Of course you're afraid, you just kind of have to do what you can."

They hugged and thanked him. Later, he sat with his mom and sisters and told them about his friends and the staffers who had died that day.

"You just have to be calm and collected," he said. "You do no good to anyone if you have a breakdown. . . . It was probably not the best idea to run toward the gunshots, but people needed help."

Sometimes it takes a few people, people like the victims of this senseless tragedy, along with the heroes who saved lives yesterday, to remind me of the veracity of something President Bill Clinton once said, that there isn't anything wrong about our country that can't be fixed by what's right about our country.

What happened yesterday harmed real people. And these people were keen on helping other people. This should not have happened to them.

A 9 year old girl who was already excited about serving the community was lost. A 30 year old guy who was just engaged was lost, right as he was organizing yet another community event for Southern Arizonans to discuss their problems, issues, and concerns with their local member of Congress. A local church volunteer laid down his life so that his wife's could be spared. And a highly respected judge, a judge who just wanted to stop at the local Safeway to say hello to his Congresswoman, was lost.

I'm still trying to make sense of all of this.

We can't forget these people and the stories they've told. And we shouldn't forget those like Daniel Hernandez and Dorwin Stoddard, people who put themselves at risk (which proved to be fatal for Stoddard) to save others. Even as I wonder how our country and our political system can move forward after this gruesome show of brutality, I am reminded of the compassion, the caring, and the spirit of service of our people. This is what still makes America great, and we can't ever forget that.

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