Tucson pauses in grief for youngest victim
Published: Friday, January 14, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 at 5:09 a.m.
TUCSON — The first funeral in the aftermath of Saturday’s shooting rampage might turn out to be the most heart-wrenching.
Christina-Taylor Green, age 9, was wheeled from church in a child-size coffin to the mournful strain of bagpipes on Thursday, having become the focus for much of the grief that has enveloped this community — and the nation — since the shootings that left 6 dead and 14 injured.
Christina’s clear-eyed gaze, her enthusiasm — baseball, dance and student council were all passions — and the randomness in which she was killed made her death particularly devastating, for grown-ups, President Obama among them, and for her contemporaries.
As the president noted, she was attending the event at which she was shot because of a blossoming interest in politics and American democracy. “I want us to live up to her expectations,” Mr. Obama said at a memorial service for the victims Wednesday evening at the University of Arizona. “I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.”
Christina’s Little League baseball team, the Pirates, will wear patches on its uniforms honoring Christina. The league is trying to get players across the country, from T-ball to the major leagues, to consider doing the same. Teams in California, Colorado and Florida have already bought patches.
Oro Valley, a Tucson suburb, is considering naming a baseball field where she played after her, city officials said.
The raw emotion was on display inside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Roman Catholic Church on Thursday, where more than 1,500 mourners of all ages were packed in tight; and outside, where there were more mourners; and down the winding road, where hundreds more waited and watched; and across the city. Some dressed in white, others in baseball uniforms. Some wore angel wings. Others carried teddy bears or bouquets of flowers.
The funeral felt almost like a state affair, with rows of politicians, officers in dress uniforms and the bagpipes. It was the biggest service anyone in Tucson could remember.
Toward the end, her father, John Green, rose to speak. He looked out at the crowd. He swallowed. And then, in a scratchy, baritone voice he said her name, slowly: “Christina-Taylor Green.”
He described a girl who picked blackberries in the summer and went sledding in the winter. Most times, she was the one directing the other kids in their adventures. He told of her and her mother, Roxanna, dressing up “to the nines” and dancing around the house.
At one of the roadside memorials that have popped up around Tucson for Christina and the other victims, a somber Mary Palma and her two grandchildren, Isaac and Eva, stopped to pay their respects, and to grapple with the recent events. “It’s hard for kids to understand that something like this could happen, and it’s hard for me,” said Ms. Palma. “They didn’t know Christina, but they know her now. Everyone knows her.”
Christina was born on Sept. 11, 2001. A flag from the World Trade Center, brought to Tucson by representatives of the New York City Fire Department, flew outside the church for the funeral.
Mr. Green said his daughter’s birthday had given her an understanding of tragedy, and it sparked an interest in civic affairs that brought her to meet Representative Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday.
She had a younger brother, Dallas, and she loved to swim. She was the hero of Mailey Moser, the 5-year-old little sister of one of her baseball teammates. Mailey would wriggle from her mother’s grasp to sneak into the dugout and sit next to Christina.
At Christina’s school, Mesa Verde Elementary, where students have been holding difficult discussions about death this week, it was quieter than usual as many students, teachers and administrators left to spend the day at the funeral. Out front was a memorial with messages to Christina. There was a photograph of her hugging her friend Serenity, who wrote, “Christina remember this photo, it was our first sleepover.”
During lunch this week, Kayley Clark, 9, called her mother at home to say that she did not want to eat the school meal of turkey tacos. She has never done that before, her mother said. Getting dressed in the morning, she has been unusually picky about what colors to wear, as if the decision might be her last.
“You know that could have been your kid there outside the supermarket standing right where Christina was standing, when the shooting broke out,” said Leah Simmers, 30, a mother of three. “This hit close to home for every mother I know.”
And for every child, including her son, Dillon, 8, a second grader. “A girl like that should not be shot,” he said, noting that she was just a year older than he was.
Suzi Hileman, the neighbor who brought Christina to meet Ms. Giffords, is still at the hospital recovering from her gunshot wounds and struggling with feelings of guilt. As soon as Mrs. Hileman’s ventilator was removed for the first time Saturday night, she turned to her husband, Bill, and asked, “What about Christina?” In her foggy morphine haze, Mr. Hileman said, she has screamed out, “Christina! Christina!”
Baseball was in Christina’s blood. Her father is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers and her grandfather, Dallas Green, managed the 1980 World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.
She was the only girl on the Pirates, the only one with shoulder-length hair peeking from the green and yellow cap. She brought a mix of playfulness and grit to the team. She spent a week negotiating the terms of a race in the outfield between the players and the coach: kids run forward, coach runs backward, winner gets ice cream. The kids won.
She climbed mesquite trees after practice. While playing second base during warm-ups on a hot desert day, she sang a pop song to herself, and quickly brought in the first baseman and right fielder into her chorus.
But she was a tough player, too. Once, with the bases loaded, she drove a hard line drive up the middle, bringing in two runs.
Another time, after a dispute at second base on whether the runner was out, she stepped in and settled things. And then there was the time when, after getting hit by a pitch, she had the option of taking the base or staying at bat. She stayed to hit — and she did, on the very next pitch.
During his eulogy, Mr. Green delivered a message, inspired by Christina’s life, to everyone who had been touched by her.
“Everybody’s going to be O.K.,” he said. “She would want that.”
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