In the Suburbs / Does the pain of tragedy ever end?
The tears come much too easily these days, and watching footage of random, innocent bystanders being picked off in the parking lot of a Tucson supermarket on Saturday opened the floodgates.
I was particularly overcome when I learned about the death of 9-year-old honor student Christina Green, whose only goal that morning was to meet a legislator, and the near-fatal shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who will now face months or even years of therapy to regain brain function. And those tears mingled with those I shed for the five other murder victims and the 14 who were injured and who miraculously survived the senseless attack by Jared Loughner.
I've stopped asking why something like these senseless tragedies happen. There really are no concrete answers. Clearly, from the evidence allegedly found in Loughner's home and in the congresswoman's office, Gabriel Giffords was the target.
This shooter arrived with a Glock and enough ammunition to take down 50 people. Miraculously, thanks to the quick thinking of Patricia Maisch, a local constituent who noticed that the clip on Loughner's second round of ammunition had failed to lock, along with two men who emerged from the crowd, the shooter was tackled and subdued, according to reports. But not before leaving a trail of broken humanity in his wake.
Three million messages hit Facebook within minutes. Friends and families tweeted and texted one another, probably around the globe. Suddenly, there were millions of versions of this horror story.
The following Monday, finishing my coffee in the local diner before heading off to substitute teach, I was crying again during the interview with Christina Green's parents, an incredibly brave couple who shared that their daughter was born on Sept. 11, 2001, and their hope was that she would triumph over tragedy. Instead, she became a victim of another tragedy. Filled with excitement about meeting her congresswoman, she just happened to be in the wrong spot at the right time. How does one explain that to loving parents?
Along with Christina, a jovial, local grandmother, just stopping by to say hello to Giffords, became a victim. Gifford's own 30-year-old public outreach officer, engaged to be married, fell that morning too. A highly respected federal Judge, stopping by to say hello to Giffords after picking up what was to be his last cup of coffee, too was gunned down. A woman retiree, whose husband of 50 years tried to shield her, lost her life. And the wife of a retiree, who lay on top of her dying, never stopped talking to him.
Saturday was also a day of heroes, like Ms. Maisch and the gentlemen who tackled the shooter. News reports tell the story of Dan Hernandez, Gabrielle Gifford's newest intern, with her just five days, who probably will be credited for saving her life. Ignoring his own safety, Hernandez, 20, rushed to Giffords' side, propped her up and cradled her head to stem the bleeding, while calling 9-1-1. Reports show that the congresswoman was in an ambulance and in surgery within a half-hour thanks to Hernandez's quick work. Exceptional would be too weak to describe this young man's behavior under fire.
Another of the congresswoman's staff who was shot and wounded continued helping constituents to safety. And there were a host of other local heroes who stepped in to contain the damage.
Within an hour after the shootings, details of Jared Loughner's background profiled a troubled man, a loner, whose behavior often made people uncomfortable. He had been turned down by the military, a college professor expressed fear when reminded about him. And I'm sure there will hundreds more stories as others connect the dots on remembering experiences with or about Jared Loughner.
On Sunday, as debris from this latest tragedy continued to settle, Congress organized a huge conference call for unity and collaboration. Free of partisan politics and focused on providing the huge contingent of callers with information, guidance for future events in their own districts. Many legislators, interviewed after the shooting, expressed regret that greeting their own constituents, the most natural part of their roles, was going to probably change radically. That remains to be seen.
It's hard to say, given the state of our economy, if the security budget can withstand a potential expansion for one-on-one protection of each member of the House and Senate. But I would say the matter will certainly receive immediate consideration in light of what happened.
Nearly a week has passed since Jared Loughner turned lives upside down in Tucson. Some of the victims already have been buried, and the wounded are recovering. But will the pain ever go away? I don't think so. And each time I think about it, the tears well up. We've all been wounded somehow -- again.
Steven Gaynes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.