Five Years Later: Reflections on the 2011 Tucson Shooting

The following guest post comes to us via Edna Meza Aguirre, regional associate development director for Planned Parenthood Arizona. Edna is a native Tucsonan, bilingual and bicultural. She received her JD from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and worked in the area of criminal defense for 12 years before changing careers.

Gabby Giffords with Planned Parenthood Arizona's president and CEO, Bryan Howard, at a 2010 event in Tucson

Gabby Giffords with Planned Parenthood Arizona’s president and CEO, Bryan Howard, at a 2010 event in Tucson

On Saturday, January 8, 2011, at 7:04 a.m., Jared Lee Loughner began his day at a Tucson Walmart. He purchased ammunition for his semi-automatic handgun, a 9 mm Glock pistol. Sometime around 7:34 a.m., he was pulled over for running a red light. When his check revealed no outstanding warrants, he was given a warning and allowed to go.

Two and half hours later, he arrived at a Tucson Safeway grocery store, stood about four feet from U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, aimed his gun, and shot her in the head. He didn’t stop there. By the end of his shooting rampage, 14 people were injured and six families were left to pick up the shattered pieces of their lives as they planned funerals for the six victims murdered that morning. Among the dead, a 9-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green, and the Honorable Judge John Roll, chief judge of the U.S. District of Arizona.

“The agony of that day drove home for me that ‘safety’ can be an illusory term.”

Loughner’s Glock also ended the lives of Dorothy “Dot” Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, and Gabriel “Gabe” Zimmerman. An aide to Gabby, Gabe was the first congressional worker to die in the line of duty.

Christina-Taylor had a burgeoning interest in our political system. Rep. Giffords was hosting a “Congress on Your Corner” event, created precisely for members of the public like Christina-Taylor, who wanted to learn more about their government. Christina-Taylor had come into the world on a painful day — September 11, 2001. She had been featured in the book Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11. Her spunk and joy provided invaluable happiness to all around her. A child born on a tragic day was to meet with Gabby so she could learn how to contribute to her world. Christina-Taylor had just been elected to her student council. 

Judge Roll had stopped by after attending morning mass so he could say hello to his friend, Gabby. She had worked with the judge in the past to help obtain funding to build a new courthouse in Yuma. His plan was to say hi and then head home to his wife Maureen. The last time I spoke with Judge Roll, we discussed the federal court. Ever a conscientious human being, he wanted to make positive contributions to the judicial system. The last time I spoke with Gabby, she asked me about my partner, Paul, as she always did. She and her friend Martha Rothman had served as our “cupids” by ensuring we met at Gabby’s campaign kickoff party in January of 2006. Gabby has always had a special place in my heart for bringing us together.

So when the Associated Press announced she had died on January 8, I had the horrible duty to call Paul and tell him Gabby was dead. He had just seen the news report announcing her death. He both wept silently since we had no words. There were no words.

I was in Casa Grande that morning at a meeting of our board of directors. The gathering quickly changed tone as we started receiving the news. One of our board members, Bridget, had been unable to attend since she was home healing from a recent surgery. As I ended my conversation with Paul, Bridget called. Some of the Tucson news services were indicating she was alive, not dead. More confusion followed. Our CEO was coordinating messaging with our national office. We were all trying to find out the truth. Gabby was indeed alive and in surgery.

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of that horrible day in Tucson. To this day, I find it hard to think of that morning. Every time I drive by the federal courthouse downtown, I look to where Judge Roll’s office was located and whisper hello to him. As if he were there. Wishing he were there.

I also know that I will be more protective of Paul and Bridget as we approach January 8. Bridget had debated whether or not to do her grocery shopping that morning at that very Safeway location. Since she was still recovering from her surgery, she decided she shouldn’t try too much while still healing. Paul was going to visit a juvenile client who was housed in a group home in that area of Tucson. Afterward, he was also going to stop by and say hello to his friend Gabby. He decided instead to visit his client the night before.

The agony of that day drove home for me that “safety” can be an illusory term. School children and their teachers weren’t safe at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Nor were people coming together to pray in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Safety also eluded three victims shot dead in a Colorado Springs health center where my colleagues came to work the day after Thanksgiving last year.

The best way I know how to honor the memory of the January 8 victims, as well as all victims of gun terrorism, is to engage in what author Dana Velden beautifully describes as “… a little more ready to step out into the impossible task, the enormous privilege, of living a human life.”

5 thoughts on “Five Years Later: Reflections on the 2011 Tucson Shooting

  1. Thank you Edna for giving voice to your memories of that heartbreaking day, and for reminding all of us to remember. Annette

  2. Edna, it would be a sad world without caring people like yourself. You certainly are a champion and a voice for people in need whom you represent.
    Thank you for sharing this story.

  3. Great article, Edna! We need more compassion and civility in our conversations with our neighbors and loved ones.

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