It’s been ten years since a shooting at a meeting between an Arizona lawmaker and her constituents took the lives of six people and injured 13 more.
On Jan. 8, 2011, former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot during a Congress On Your Corner meeting in the parking lot of a Safeway in southern Arizona, just outside of Tucson.
Those killed included 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, federal judge John Roll, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, and Gabriel Zimmerman.
On Friday, some survivors of the shooting gathered at a memorial in El Presidio Park in Tucson, while others reflected on the impact of that day on social media.
At exactly 10:10 a.m. on Friday, the moment the first shots were fired 10 years ago, a bell was rung 13 times in a memorial service for those who were shot, and another six times for those killed in the attack.
“Today, my heart and mind are with those we lost in the Tucson shooting,” Giffords wrote on Twitter. “Their memories are a blessing that keeps me going, even when times are tough.”
The anniversary also served as an opportunity to unveil the new January 8th Memorial, west of the Historic Courthouse in Tucson’s El Presidio Park, which was built to commemorate the shootings.
Former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, who was also shot in the 2011 attack, now serves as the president of the January 8th Memorial Foundation. The memorial will feature symbols representing the lives of the victims and survivors, as well as six gardens, one for each person who died on Jan. 8, Barber said.
Barber recalled three memorials that were erected following the shooting in 2011: one at the Safeway where the shooting took place, one at Giffords’ office, and one at the front lawn of the University Medical Center where the most seriously wounded victims were treated.
“Those memorials provided a space where we could mourn those who died, and offer up healing energy for those who were wounded,” Barber said on Friday. “Now, we have a permanent memorial.”
While the memorial is currently closed to the public during the coronavirus pandemic, Giffords made an appearance in a video produced by Pima County to speak to Tucson residents.
“I miss you. I miss Tucson. The mountains, blue skies, even the heat,” Giffords said. “I’m getting stronger. I’m getting better.”
Giffords was shot in the head at point-blank range during the attack and has undergone extensive speech and physical therapy to aid in her recovery following the shooting.
In the decade since, Giffords and her husband, newly-elected Sen. Mark Kelly, have become staunch advocates for gun control. Her nonprofit, Giffords, works to enact strong gun safety laws in every state across the country.
“Tucson never stops fighting and we move ahead together, as an example for the nation,” Giffords said in a statement on Twitter Friday. “My recovery has taught me to celebrate even small victories—and treat every day as a new opportunity. To achieve a safer America, we must continue our work through the next decade and beyond.”
Young Arizonans Pick Up Mantle For Gun Safety
Anvitha Doddipalli, was only 7 years old when Giffords was shot in 2011, but she remembers President Barack Obama addressing the nation following the shooting.
“It is a tragedy for Arizona, and a tragedy for our entire country,” Obama said at the time. “What Americans do at times of tragedy is come together and support each other.”
Almost two years later, a gunman would kill 26 people, most of them 6- and 7-year-old children, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Five years after that, a shooting at Parkland High School in Florida that claimed 17 lives would galvanize young people across the country to fight for stronger gun safety legislation.
Today, Doddipalli is a senior at Corona del Sol High School in Tempe, and works with Students Demand Action, an offshoot of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that works to educate the public about gun violence and promote gun control. Like other young people her age, Doddipalli said the 2018 shooting at Parkland was a “wake up call” to the rampant gun violence in the United States.
Doddipalli formed an action group at Corona del Sol that works to educate youth about gun violence prevention at her school and throughout the district, in addition to meeting with state legislators. In October, she was appointed to Students Demand Action’s national advisory board.
Before the pandemic shuttered schools, Doddipalli said students would often joke about the potential of a school shooting and plan their inevitable escape routes.
“People use it as a joke, as a coping mechanism, but it’s concerning that that’s something that students think about on a daily basis,” she said.
In an average year, 1,054 people are killed by a gun in Arizona, the 18th highest rate of gun deaths in the country, according to statistics from Everytown.
While writing a research paper about legislation that allows gun violence to occur in America, Doddipalli said the work published by Giffords’ nonprofit informed much of her research.
“It’s not enough for this movement to be built by survivors of gun violence,” Doddipalli said. “It’s the rest of us that need to rise as allies to ensure that no one has to identify as a survivor ever again.”
While Doddipalli was not old enough to vote in the 2020 election, she said volunteering with Students Demand Action was a way to not feel helpless about being able to effect change during this election.
The group registered over 100,000 voters across the country, including 4,500 in Arizona, where Doddipalli says Arizonans overwhelmingly support stronger gun control laws.
Given the opportunity, she said she would have voted for Sen. Kelly, a candidate that she says will take concrete action to prioritize gun safety. In the next decade, she hopes to see legislation like universal background checks and stricter gun control laws for domestic abusers.
“I hope that high schoolers don’t go to school everyday worried about the possibility of a school shooting,” Doddipalli said. “I don’t want that to stay the norm.”
Arizona Politicians Reflect on Anniversary
On Friday, several Arizona politicians reflected on the anniversary of the shooting.
In a statement on Friday, Kelly said the anniversary is always difficult for his family, but especially poignant this year in the wake of the violence on Capitol Hill that occurred earlier this week.
On Wednesday, crowds of right-wing extremists swarmed the US Capitol to object to the results of the 2020 election, despite there being no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Giffords said Wednesday that she was taken back to that moment in 2011 as she waited for news that her husband was safe.
“I’ll never stop being inspired by my wife. Her commitment to service is remarkable,” Kelly wrote on Friday. “Gabby knows that when we serve each other and work together, our community thrives. The January 8th shooting robbed our community of 6 family members, friends, and loved ones. And Tucson showed us how resilient we are and that we would not be defined by the horrific act that day.”
Kelly, along with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, is one of two Democratic senators from Arizona. This year marks the first time in nearly 70 years two Democrats will represent Arizona in the Senate.
On Friday, Sinema remembered the victims of the shooting and thanked Giffords for her “incredible” leadership in Arizona.
“I’m looking forward to working alongside your husband [Captain Mark Kelly] to deliver results for everyday Arizonans,” Sinema wrote.
Tucson Mayor Regina Romero said the shooting served as a dark moment in the city’s past, but also as a reminder.
“Even during the most difficult times, Tucsonans are able to come together and persevere as one community,” Romero wrote on Twitter Friday. “We will never forget the Tucsonans who lost their lives, and will always be there as one community to support the survivors of this tragic event.”