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Moving Forward

The victims of Jan. 8 and their loved ones vow to move on - but never forget

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When the Tucson Weekly talked to Mike Nowak almost one year ago, he was still recovering from the loss of his best friend, 76-year-old Dorwan Stoddard, who was killed on Jan. 8, 2011, while protecting his wife, Mavanell "Mavy" Stoddard.

Mavy was shot in the legs three times. From a wheelchair at Dorwan's funeral on Jan. 16, she told the packed Calvary Tucson East Baptist Church that she had to "live for him," even though her recovery and loss were difficult.

"So hang in there, everybody. Don't ever let anybody, anybody, anybody leave without hugging (and) kissing them and telling them you love them. Tomorrow might not come," she said.

The two were high-school sweethearts who ended up marrying other people. But when their spouses died, they reunited and had been married for 15 years. The Stoddards were also loyal congregants at Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, where Nowak serves as minister.

He got to know Dorwan, a retired construction worker, because Dorwan volunteered to help with the church building's maintenance. The Stoddards also helped church members and neighbors in need with food, and rent and utilities assistance.

Just days after the shooting, Nowak told the Weekly that Dorwan was easy to love and that he made other people feel special. "They were drawn to him naturally. There are no books written about him, and there are no street signs named after him, but he had a magnetic personality."

Today, Nowak says it hasn't been easy for him or his congregation to recover from losing Dorwan, although it did bring the congregation closer together.

"There's a deeper fellowship with one another," Nowak says, adding that when "incidents like this happen, we need the support of everyone, everyday. It's also important to move forward as you draw strength from one another."

Nowak has seen volunteers from his congregation step forward to pick up Dorwan's work. Nowak says he was surprised by the number of men who came forward to take over his jobs.

"There are now more men involved than there were before," Nowak says.

Mavy is still active in the church, but physically frail compared to how she was before the shootings, Nowak says. She's also emotionally fragile.

"We all help her, but that doesn't mean it gets better," Nowak says. "Maybe if this happened to someone who was much younger, it would be easier, but to Mavy, she has lost the person she expected to be with in these last years of her life."

The Stoddards "enjoyed every event together. They were constant companions. She realizes she will never have that again," Nowak says.

The Stoddards weren't the only retirees affected by the Jan. 8 shootings. Retired airline pilot George Morris, who was wounded, lost his wife Dorothy "Dot" Morris, 76, a retired secretary.

When a photo of slain shooting victim Phyllis Schneck, 79, was displayed during President Barack Obama's memorial speech at McKale Center on Jan. 12, Obama remarked that the retired mother of three, who had seven grandchildren and a 2-year-old great-granddaughter, was a Republican who "took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better."

It was the faces of these retirees that reminded the community that anyone's grandmother or grandfather could have been at that northwest-side Safeway on the morning of Jan. 8. But Nowak says he's not so sure it helps for everyone to be reminded of what took place that day, especially those who are older and were left behind.

"We read about it on the news. We never forget, but we're not allowed to forget," Nowak says. "I worry about Mavy. This is a hard time."


DEALING WITH THE LOSS OF A CHILD

Roxana Green has lived through one of the most-devastating events a person can experience—the unexpected death of a child.

While in New York visiting her husband's family during the Christmas holidays, Green told the Tucson Weekly by phone that she was able to survive at first because of the people who rallied around her family, and now, she goes on because she purposefully keeps busy.

Green's 9-year-old daughter, Christina-Taylor Green, was shot and killed on Jan. 8.

A year later, the anniversary of that horrific day means Green has been busy talking to the media and re-living the events surrounding her daughter's death.

Those first days after the shootings were the most difficult, Green says. She couldn't believe it was true, even though she had gone to the hospital to see her daughter's body and touch her for the last time. That first week, she says, she had to pinch herself over and over again.

She continues to ache for Christina-Taylor.

"I just cry—I think it is healthy—in the shower, home and bedroom. Lots of times, (my husband, John, and I) cry ourselves to sleep. I try to stay busy, focused and be happy for our son," Green says. "I know people say time heals all wounds. Maybe for other things, but not for something like this. Not when you lose a child in this way."

Still, Green retains a sense of humor. "We cry—and then we eat carbs," she says, laughing lightly.

While in New York, Green is appearing on some of the national talk shows and news programs. Besides talking about Jan. 8, Green is also touting her book, which came out this week.

As Good as She Imagined, released by Worthy Publishing, was written by Green with Left Behind series writer Jerry Jenkins. This week's issue of People magazine has a feature story about the Greens along with book excerpts.

Green says writing the book gave her the chance to tell her family's story about that day, and to tell the world about her daughter, in a way other books wouldn't be able to.

The title of the book refers to President Barack Obama's memorial speech at McKale Center on Jan. 12. Speaking of Christina-Taylor, who had just been elected to the Mesa Verde Elementary School student council and wanted to meet her congresswoman, Obama said, "Here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy, just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship. ... I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it."

Green says she and her family will observe the anniversary by doing "what we usually do on birthdays and Thanksgiving and those other holidays. We have a deep family faith in God. We'll light a candle, go to church and have a favorite family meal."

Green says she rarely watches the news and has no interest in keeping up with the legal proceedings involving alleged shooter Jared Loughner. "I don't watch items about him or want to see pictures of him," she says.

Green's desire to keep busy led to the development of the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation (www.christina-taylorgreen.org), of which Green serves as chief executive officer. On Nov. 1, the charitable organization received its nonprofit status, and much of Green's spare time is devoted to its growth.

"Our No. 1 priority is to give back to Tucson. We're so grateful for how the community treated us," Green says. "We had these dreams and goals for both of our children, and we've always tried to give back as much as we could. I guess one of the good things to come out of this is the outpouring of love. The idea is to give back to Tucson with youth programs and education needs in academics, arts and sports in K-12 schools. We want her legacy to endure forever."

The first donations provided $150,000 to local schools for computers, furniture, new physical-education equipment and supplies for art programs, drama and orchestra.

The foundation has been a form of therapy for Green. She says she tried seeing a counselor, and realized that she needed something that kept her busy—not constantly thinking about her loss.

While the foundation has helped her cope, talking to other women who have experienced a similar loss has also helped—women such as Jeannette Maré, who started Ben's Bells in honor of her late son.

"I just know how important it was to me, talking with women who have lost children," Green says. "Look, there's no playbook when it comes to grief."


SURVIVING WITH THE HELP OF KIDS

While recovering from the emotional and physical wounds she suffered on Jan. 8, Suzi Hileman found solace by going back to school—as a volunteer at Prince Elementary School in the Amphitheater School District.

Hileman spent 12 weeks recovering physically and emotionally from gunshot wounds and the loss of her young friend Christina-Taylor Green, whom she accompanied to the Congress on Your Corner event so the girl could meet her congresswoman.

Hileman was impressed by the diversity at the school, where a majority of students come from low-income households. Hileman discovered that when she felt down, all she had to do to feel better was head to the kindergarten class and get hugs from about 28 5-year-olds.

"I became the official adopted grandmother of Prince," Hileman says, laughing.

Her experience at Prince Elementary led Hileman to start Grandparents in Residence, or GRIN (grandparentsinresidence.com). The organization pairs retirees with Tucson-area school administrators. The group finds out what schools need, and then recruits seniors in the community who want to volunteer. For example, Rio Vista Elementary has a group of boys interested in knitting, so Hileman is looking for someone who wants to teach them, and also help them with reading.

The idea to form GRIN came during Hileman's convalescence. "It grew out of the 12 weeks I was laying at home recovering," she says. Between 4 and 5 p.m. every day, the doorbell would ring, and "someone would bring us love" in the form of that night's dinner, Hileman says. "It wasn't easy accepting that help in the beginning. We always took pride in ourselves for being independent. We had to learn to accept help with grace."

But she wanted to give back, so Hileman reached out to her social circle of other retirees, and on the first day of school at Prince, they put up welcome signs and handed out treats.

As Hileman started to put the pieces together to start GRIN, she thought about all of the retirees living in Tucson who have no connections to local schools, because they are finished raising children.

"There are people who want to be part of the community, but they don't know how," Hileman says.

On Saturday, Jan. 7, GRIN will hold Stroll and Roll, a walk in memory of Christina-Taylor, at the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial River Park, along Canada del Oro between Magee and Thornydale roads, from 8 to 11 a.m.

"I've heard people say how amazed they were with the friendship I had with Christina-Taylor," Hileman says. "But I know that anyone can have that. It was special, but anyone can reach out to a child and offer them our friendship."


A FITTING TRIBUTE

Judge John Roll will be remembered by anyone who passes through the doors of the new federal courthouse in Yuma. The courthouse, which he worked hard to get built, will bear his name when it is completed.

It is a fitting tribute to the 40-year veteran of the legal system. Roll had made it a priority over the years to secure funding for the new building, and he found an ally in U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Roll was heading home from Mass at St. Augustine Cathedral in downtown Tucson when he stopped by the Congress on Your Corner event to visit with Giffords and thank her for her help. He was killed while talking with Giffords' district director, Ron Barber, who believes that Roll may have saved his life by pushing him down as the shooting started.

Barber was at the groundbreaking ceremony for the courthouse last June to remember Roll and his work.

"He was the real deal," Barber said at the ceremony. "Nothing phony about him. I just wish he could have been here today to see the groundbreaking."

Though Giffords and Roll sat on different sides of the political spectrum, and Yuma is outside of Giffords' district, the two had been working together to secure funding for the courthouse; Giffords hoped the new building would help ease the burden on the federal courts in her district. Just a few days before his death, Roll had signed off on the design of the building, praising its Southwestern design.

President Barack Obama, speaking at the Jan. 12 memorial service at McKale Center, said, "In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America's fidelity to the law."

The John M. Roll U.S. Courthouse is scheduled to open in 2013.


REMEMBERING GABE

Gabe Zimmerman made an astonishing number of friends in his 30 years of life, and those friends are making sure he won't be forgotten.

At the urging of hundreds of Arizonans who knew him, Congress has named a room for him at the U.S. Capitol. Scholarship programs at the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he got his bachelor's degree, and Arizona State University, where he earned a master's in social work, now honor his legacy of helping others.

The Pima County Board of Supervisors named a trailhead for Zimmerman in Davidson Canyon. His friends in Green Valley created a memorial for him. Students at his secondary-school alma mater, University High School, built a bench in his memory.

Gabe had not set out to get involved in politics—his first love was civil service—but he joined the first congressional campaign of Gabrielle Giffords for a tiny salary, because he believed in her pragmatic philosophy of making government work for those who didn't have the money or stature to advocate for themselves. After her victory in 2006, Giffords hired him to be the people's liaison to the maze of federal agencies that could hold up things, such as a lost passport, a farmer's subsidy or a veteran's benefit.

No problem was too small for his attention. If you called Giffords' office with a gripe, Gabe would inevitably get involved. He was standing at her side at the Safeway to compile another list of requests when he died. He became the first congressional staff member murdered in the line of duty in the history of the U.S. Congress.

Gabe had to deal with thousands of incensed people through the years, and hardly anyone can recall him losing his temper. His calm was almost supernatural. His ability to connect with constituents—especially the cranky ones—earned him the nickname "the constituent whisperer." Being evicted from a porch on the campaign trail or having a phone slammed down on him were hazards of the trade, and he laughed it off. Anyone who spent more than 30 seconds with Gabe ended up liking him.

"Gabe was really gifted," says his father, Ross Zimmerman. "He was really good at connecting with people and was fearless about it. He liked being out there."

Out there also meant the natural beauty of Tucson, and Gabe hiked dozens of trails in the ranges that surround the city. He proposed to his fiancée on an early-morning hike at the base of "A" Mountain.

Gabe grew up with parents who cherished the outdoors. "He thought it was normal to do things like trot across the Grand Canyon with his dad," Ross says. Thus, it's appropriate that his extended family is working to create Beyond Tucson, an event that urges Tucsonans to enjoy the outdoors on Saturday, Jan. 7, as a way of honoring the memories of those who lost their lives on Jan. 8, 2011.

"We're never going to heal up from this," Ross says. "We just have to learn how to cope and how to move forward."

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