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Updated Jan 9, 2012, 10:28 am
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords led the Pledge of Allegiance on Sunday at the candlelight vigil that commemorated the first anniversary of the Jan. 8, 2011, shootings in which she was wounded.
With her husband, Mark Kelly, at her side, Giffords spoke clearly, but haltingly, as she held her hand to her chest and led the audience of nearly 4,000 in the Pledge, emphasizing the words, "and justice for all," at the University of Arizona Mall.
Ron Barber, Giffords' district director and shooting survivor, emceed the event, which included speeches from Kelly, Dr. Peter Rhee, of University Medical Center, and Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.
“I am thrilled to be reunited with my longtime friend, and now hero, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords,” Rothschild said.
The people of Tucson are united, compassionate and 1 million strong, he said
Tucsonans live in this city not only because of the beauty of the desert and the mountains, but also because of the love and kindness of the people in the community, Barber said.
Rhee, who treated Giffords at UMC, spoke about the importance of health care for everyone, including the mentally ill.
Rhee said Kelly is an example of how trauma affects everyone — victims, family and community.
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“People died senselessly that day and many lives were changed,” he said.
Kelly also spoke about the importance of treating mental illness.
He said with adequate mental health treatment for those who need it, the people attending the vigil might not have had to be there.
Giffords also participated in lighting candles for each of the victims of the shootings. With Kelly's help, she lit the first of the 19 candles.
A candle was lit for each of those who were killed: 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green, Dorothy Morris, 76; Judge John Roll, 63; Phyllis Schneck, 79; Dorwin Stoddard, 76; and Gabriel Zimmerman, 30.
The wounded also each were honored with a candle: Bill Badger, Barber, Kenneth Dorushka, James Fuller, Randy Gardner, Giffords, Susan Hileman, George Morris, Mary Reed, Pamela Simon, Mavy Stoddard, James Tucker and Kenneth Veeder.
During the vigil, Giffords was animated and often smiling, particularly when the audience lit glow sticks, creating a sea of red, white and blue in front of her.
Several times, the crowd chanted, "Gabby, Gabby!" And at one point, Giffords offered a big smile and a small wave.
Calexico, Giffords' favorite local band, performed their song "Crystal Frontier" with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Singer Joey Burns twice said, "We love you, Gabby" during the song.
Rabbi Stephanie Aaron, who leads Giffords' congregation, said the closing prayer.
When a siren is heard or an emergency vehicle is traveling down the road, Tucsonans should not view it as an annoyance, but rather say a prayer for the lives that may be in peril and for the first responders coming to their aid, Aaron said.
Security on the Mall was tight but not obtrusive.
Uniformed UA police and U.S. Capitol Police were scattered throughout the crowd, and several teams of spotters wearing camouflage and flak jackets were arrayed on nearby rooftops, scanning the crowd with night-vision equipment.
The audience was split between 900 invited guests, who sat in chairs placed near the stage, and the general public, who were kept some distance away with crowd control fencing.
When the vigil was over, Giffords slowly made her way down the steps at the side of the stage and spend about five minutes speaking with friends and supporters, hidden behind a crane holding a speaker array.
She was guided toward a black SUV with an open door, but stopped to wave and smile at members of the crowd, who gathered near the fencing along the Mall roadway and called out to her.
"We love you Gabby!" many said.
One woman called, "Phoenix loves you, too, Gabby!"
Giffords responded with a grimace and a shrugging wave, giving a typical Tucson brush-off to the megalopolis to the north.
The message was repeated, and Giffords again grimaced and made a pushing aside motion.
Then, rather than climb inside the SUV, she slowly walked the hundred yards to the ground floor of Old Main with a group of staffers, security and her husband.
As she walked, about 150 audience members continued to call to her, offering messages of support.
"Tucson loves you, Gabby!" was the most common refrain.