Capping off a weekend of ceremonies and events held in honor of the January 8 anniversary, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords led thousands in the Pledge of Allegiance at the University of Arizona Sunday night.
An estimated 3,500 people came together at the University of Arizona Mall to participate in a candlelight vigil that paid tribute to the 19 victims who were shot when Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a Safeway one year ago, killing six and wounding 13, including Giffords who suffered a gunshot wound to the head.
Ron Barber, a member of Giffords’ staff who was also injured, was the emcee for the event.
Barber recognized that after the shooting, the Tucson community came together to share compassion and love.
“This event is a gift of thanks and appreciation to all of you,” he said.
Among the speakers at the hour-long event were Dr. Peter Rhee, of the University Medical Center, Dr. Eugene Sander, president of the University of Arizona, Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild, Secretary of State Ken Bennett and Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly.
Bennett delivered an emotional speech about his grandson, who was recently born and placed in the intensive care unit.
Bennett said while sitting in the intensive care unit, he realized the political or religious affiliations of the doctors and nurses working to save his grandson doesn’t matter, what matters is they are all working toward a common goal.
Bennett said looking at his bracelet, the letters IC (intensive care) stood out.
“No matter what we’re doing in politics, in city planning or the direction of the state, we all need to show a little intensive care to each other,” he said.
In the middle of the ceremony, a candle was lit for all 19 victims of the shooting, with Giffords and Kelly starting the process.
After the candles were lit, the thousands filling the University of Arizona Mall were asked to light glow sticks.
Dr. Rhee, who has been credited with saving Giffords’ life, said he was happy to have her home.
“Trauma service is a public service, and it is a privilege that lets you treat everyone - no questions asked,” he said. “All violence and gunshot wounds are senseless; whether in war or in a backyard. People died senselessly (on Jan. 8), and many lives were changed. Tucson will not be defined by the shooting, but instead by what happened after.”
“Gabby, the world, including Houston loves you, but nowhere near as much as Tucson,” Rhee added.
Kelly said over the last year many have had to face new realities, and have had to deal with the pain of letting go, while noting that had Loughner had adequate mental health treatment no one would have been hurt or killed last Jan. 8.
“In the last year, we have seen the healing that is possible,” he said. “Ron (Barber) returned to work. Bill Badger went with his wife to Pennsylvania, and tonight, my beautiful wife Gabby led us in the pledge.”
The Band Calexico, along with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra also performed in the ceremony.