TUCSON, Ariz.-Church services, memorials, candlelight vigils, and impromptu prayer groups have been popping up all over Tucson as residents seek out one another's comfort and company in the wake of a mass shooting Saturday that left six people dead and 14 wounded, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who remains in intensive care. But for four area churches, whose members were among the victims, those gatherings have served as an outlet to remember and mourn the loss of their own.
Had U.S. District Judge John M. Roll not been following his daily habit of attending Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in North Tucson, it is unlikely he would have lost his life at the hands of alleged shooter, 22-year-old Jared Loughner, who so far has been charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government, and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee.
Though friends and colleagues describe Roll as a staunch conservative, he and Democratic Rep. Giffords knew each other well, so few expressed surprise that he accepted her last-minute invitation to drop by her Congress on the Corner event in front of the neighborhood Safeway grocery store. It was the kind of temperate, sunny January morning Arizona is famous for, and Roll called his wife to tell her he would be later than expected-he wanted to congratulate the congresswoman on her reelection after a hard-fought campaign.
Early reports suggested that Roll, who was the chief judge of Arizona's federal courts, might have been the target of Loughner's rage, possibly as a result of a past ruling. But it soon became evident that he was simply, as Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik put it, "in the wrong place at the wrong time."
President George H.W. Bush, on the recommendation of Sen. John McCain, appointed Roll, 63, to the federal bench in 1991, and he had a long and distinguished law career. But when reflecting on his life, many who knew him discussed neither his rulings nor his résumé, but rather how his faith was reflected in his work.
Mike Urbanski, associate head for faculty development and student services at Salpointe Catholic High School in Tucson, described Roll as "one of our most illustrious alumni-not because of his position but because of the kind of man he was. His values, his integrity, and his compassion made him a perfect fit for his profession. Even as a teenager, John was always the voice of reason."
On the Catholic Phoenix website, J. Hanson recalled being part of a group of evangelical and Catholic law students Roll spoke to about the demands of the legal profession, the benefits of belief in Christ, and the need for practical wisdom in living out one's faith. "He was committed to Christian truth," wrote Hanson. "Or, as the person responsible for securing Judge Roll as a speaker this summer put it: 'He truly, passionately demonstrated truth.'"
No doubt many who knew Roll hold fast to the same confidence his friend Alan Sears had. "One consolation we have in our grief is that because of John's fervent love for the Lord, he is right now rejoicing in the loving presence of his Creator," said Sears, who is the president of the Alliance Defense Fund.
Another shooting victim, Dorwan Stoddard, was a retired construction worker and gas station owner, who also used his abilities to serve the kingdom. The 76-year-old was the man Tucson's Mountain Avenue Church of Christ turned to when they needed leaks fixed, the roof repaired, or other general maintenance. A soundproof room he built at the church so parents of crying youngsters could still listen to the sermon demonstrated Stoddard's talent for working with his hands. It is named "Dory's Room" in his honor.
Among their many areas of service in the church, Stoddard and his wife, Mavy, who was wounded but survived the shooting, especially enjoyed delivering food and flowers to the sick and providing transportation for those unable to drive. At a special memorial service on Sunday, the Stoddards' fellow church members gathered to share recollections of the couple's spirit of service. "They got into people's lives," said Jody Nowak, wife of pastor Mike Nowak. "They didn't sit on the pew and do nothing,"
Another speaker, Kat Joplin, said that when she and her husband were homeless, the Stoddards helped them get back on their feet by arranging for them to stay at a motel and then allowing them to stay at their home. Joplin said the Stoddards also helped her husband find a job.
Dorwan Stoddard's self-sacrifice was evident even in the final moments of his life, when, according to reports, he shielded Mavy from the bullets with his body.
Perhaps the most haunting image that many Americans will recall in this tragedy is the sweet face of 9-year-old victim Christina Taylor Green. Born on Sept. 11, 2001, Green, who was a newly elected member of the Mesa Verde Elementary School student council, accompanied a neighbor to the Giffords event so she could see government at work.
But politics was only one of Green's passions. Walking in the footsteps of her grandfather, former major league baseball player and manager Dallas Green, she was the only girl on her Little League baseball team. She also sang in the Joyful Noise Choir at St. Odilia Parish in Tucson, where her family attends and where she recently received her first communion.
Her father, John Green, told Phoenix CBS affiliate KPHO that his family will rely on their friends, each other, and God to help them through this tragedy, but added that he is struggling to accept the loss. "My wife is better than I am at handling this," he admitted in tears. "She's put it in God's hands and I have, too, to a certain degree. But you know, I'm a little angry at losing my daughter."
Proving that Giffords' community outreach event, so brutally interrupted by violence, was truly one of bipartisanship, two more of Loughner's victims-79-year-old Phyllis Schneck and 76-year-old Dorothy Morris-were described by friends and family members as conservatives.
Schenck's daughter, B.J. Offutt, told The Wall Street Journalthat though her mother was a Republican, she admired Giffords. An active member of Tucson's Northminster Presbyterian Church, Schneck, who was married 56 years to her high school sweetheart before he died several years ago of cancer, filled her time making aprons and quilts for her church to sell at fairs to raise money.
Morris' husband, George, who is still at Tucson's University Medical Center recovering from gunshot wounds to the chest and leg, was, according to friends, the political pontificator in the family. Dorothy Morris, who had worked as her husband's secretary and bookkeeper after he retired from being an airline pilot and took up real estate, loved being by her fiery husband's side. "They still acted like newlyweds," their longtime friend Bonnie Royle told The Reno Gazette-Journal. "He always called her his girlfriend or his bride. They were so much in love."
Like Schneck, Morris had known her husband since her teens when they both lived in Reno, Nev., and the couple had been married for more than 55 years. Bonnie Royle's husband, Bill, told the Los Angeles TimesGeorge Morris would often hold forth on his opinions about various issues with dinner guests and neighbors in Reno, but hastened to clarify: "They were people who were easy to get along with. They had their opinions, especially in politics, but it was nothing too radical."
Thirty-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, the community outreach director for Giffords, was just about to embark on married life. Newly engaged, he had worked for the congresswoman since 2006 and loved his job because, his mother, Emily Nottingham, told The Wall Street Journal, it "allowed him to be involved in developing social policy while giving direct assistance to those who needed help, such as veterans and people with mental illness."
In Washington, D.C., President Obama will lead the nation in a moment of silence Monday at 11 a.m. to honor Giffords and the six people killed and the 13 others wounded.
"It will be a time for us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection, keeping the victims and their families closely at heart," the president said Sunday in a statement.
Reflecting the sentiments of the community in the face of such losses, a commenter on a web board set up by Tucson ABC affiliate KGUN had this message for the families of victims: "It is okay to be weak, we will carry you as long as needed."