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An Emotional Year After The Tucson Shooting



This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the shootings in Tucson, Arizona, which killed six people and wounded 13, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Memorial events are taking place all weekend.

NPR's Ted Robbins has been there and tells us how people are commemorating an event they cannot forget.

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Whether it's news of Gabby Giffords recovery, the accused gunman in court, or just a visit to the Safeway on the corner of Ina and Oracle Roads, in Tucson, reminders of last January's shooting have been everywhere. So this anniversary is a city-wide event. At Tucson's International School for Peace, teachers wanted to commemorate the shooting without focusing on fear and negativity. They found a way for their students to do that.


ROBBINS: The International School for Peace is a preschool. About two-dozen children sang songs, then released balloons into the sky with slips of paper tied to them containing peaceful wishes.

CHILDREN AND TEACHERS: OK, ready? Uno, dos, tres, whooh.

ROBBINS: A.J. Hoxie is a teacher at the school. For her students, the shooting was a lifetime ago.

A.J. HOXIE: With kids this age they're not going to remember that so all we can do is hope that in the future they'll be peaceful people and that's what we try to do here. There's nothing more uplifting than seeing little children singing songs of peace - gives you a lot of hope for the future.

ROBBINS: Pam Simon remembers. She is one of three Giffords' staff members who were shot last January 8th. Simon's physical wounds have healed. Her emotional wounds - well, she says she's getting there.

PAM SIMON: Emotionally it's been a journey.

ROBBINS: Even a helicopter brings back memories.


SIMON: See, in February that would have bothered me.


ROBBINS: The helicopter flying overhead.

SIMON: Yes. Yeah. Yeah. 'Cause when I was being loaded into an ambulance I could hear the helicopters landing. And so, and then all of a sudden one day you realize that you are, you know, time has moved on and it's just a helicopter.


ROBBINS: For months after the shooting, Pam Simon suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Even in church, she says she'd imagine the worst and looked for escape routes.

SIMON: What if a gunman came in the back of the church, which direction would I go? Could I get under the pew fast enough? And what you do is just bring yourself back to present.

ROBBINS: Pam Simon says she's looking forward to seeing some colleagues from Giffords' Washington office. She's not necessarily looking forward to some of the anniversary events.

SIMON: I wouldn't use the word dread, but I'm going into this knowing full well that it will be emotional. And there's nothing wrong with that but it is exhausting.

ROBBINS: Today, the day before the actual anniversary, nearly 30 events are scheduled city-wide. Mostly outdoors. Hiking, bike riding, arts projects; all under the umbrella of Beyond Tucson, an organization started by Ross Zimmerman.

ROSS ZIMMERMAN: To teach people to use their brains and bodies and engage with others in ways that will make their brains, bodies and spirit healthier.

ROBBINS: Ross Zimmerman lost his son, Gabe, in the shooting. Gabe was Gabby Giffords' outreach director, a people person, like his father.

ZIMMERMAN: You know, my pattern seems to be that I seem to take comfort from being around other people. Other folks are wanting to keep to themselves is what I'm hearing.

ROBBINS: Some victim's families left town, not wanting to deal with the anniversary in public. On Sunday morning, at 11 minutes past 10, the time of the shooting, people all over Tucson will ring bells in honor of the victims. A number of services follow, culminating in a candlelight vigil at the University of Arizona.

Still recovering from her wounds, Gabby Giffords will be at that event, alongside her husband Mark Kelly.

Ross Zimmerman will be there, as well. But he would gladly give up the tributes, the remembrances, and the kind words.

ZIMMERMAN: Why couldn't we just get rid of all this and have Gabe back? And that's true for all of us, you know? There's no way to make that trade but, you know, if he could be here and me not, that'd be fine with me.

ROBBINS: A year later, the wounds may not be as raw, but the anniversary is a reminder that the loss will never go away.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.