'Action' focus of Beyond Tucson remembrances of Jan. 8
Barber recalls attack like clockwork every Sat.
A day of smiles and sunshine is how many Tucsonans spent Saturday, in a moving memorial to the victims of the Jan. 8, 2011 shootings meant to lift both feet and spirits.
"It's important to pause and remember what happened, but it's also important to take action and raise awareness," said Pam Simon, a staffer for U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when both were shot on a similar Saturday two years ago.
Simon was one of several survivors and family members of Jan. 8 victims who joined thousands of Tucsonans in Downtown's Armory Park for the main event of Beyond Tucson.
"Today is an example of our community's compassion and caring," said U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, also a survivor of the Jan. 8 attack.
Beyond Tucson was first held last year, to mark the first anniversary of the Jan. 8 attack. The day of outdoor activity was conceived by the family of Gabriel Zimmerman, a Giffords staffer who was killed while working at the Congress On Your Corner event.
The event was far from somber, with thumping music and Zumba dancers, jump-roping children and hiked-out adults only occasionally interrupted by remarks from community leaders - some of whom joined in the action.
At one point in the afternoon, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild showed off his dance moves, hopping and shimmying at the urging of other dancers on the Armory Park stage. Pima County Supervisor Richard Elias and Neal Cash of the Community Partnership of Southern Arizona stayed in the back row as the mayor took center stage to work up a sweat.
Catching his breath after his stage appearance, Rothschild laughingly declined a Sentinel offer to lose the workout video.
"Part of what the Zimmerman family wants to do to honor their son is to get out, get exercise — that's what Gabe loved to do — and the mayor'll get up and Zumba if it that helps people to get that message," he said after.
To the mayor, the day's theme of "Beyond" means, "You go beyond where you are, and become more... that was Gabe's message, and that's still Gabby's message."
Barber recalls shooting like clockwork every Saturday
A quieter note was struck by Barber, who said he recalls the shootings every Saturday at the exact moment a gunman opened fire: 10:11 a.m.
"I don't know about you, but I certainly think that many of the survivors of that day do what I do, often" he said. "I'll look at the clock... and it's approaching 10 o'clock, and then it's approaching 10:05, and then 10:11."
"I oftentimes pause at 10:11 to remember how all our lives got changed that morning when a young man who disturbed and wasn't getting the treatment he needed, came and discharged 30 bullets in 45 seconds," he said.
Speaking from the stage at the center of the park, Barber invoked the name of slain Giffords staffer Gabriel Zimmerman, saying he would "want us to pay attention to" the issues of better health treatment and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines."
The crowd responded with calls of "bravo!"
"As long as I'm in office, I'll be working to make sure that both of these things happen, so we can put an end to these mass shootings," he said.
Barber said that, two years after being shot through the cheek and in the leg — wounds that nearly cost him his life, he's doing well "mentally and physically."
"My leg doesn't work very well," he said in an interview, "but I've got a great brace that helps me get around."
"Emotionally, this is a tough weekend for all of us, " he said. "But I think the strength that I take from this community gets me through."
"We have a tremendously resilient community," Barber said, crediting his wife Nancy for helping him recover.
"I'm a very lucky man, to be alive and to be able to do things for my community in a way I never expected."
Beyond founded by family of slain staffer
"As a community, how do we start conversations about responsible behavior? About ending violence? I have my own beliefs about guns and all that, but I've chosen to move past that and focus more on promoting mental and physical health. That's what this event is about," said Ross Zimmerman, Gabe's father.
Organizers plan to keep the event going the first Saturday of every January, said Michelle Crow, who led the planning for both Beyond Tucson series.
"This year is a little different than last," she said. "We hope it'll become a permanent part of the Tucson calendar."
"Beyond has evolved a little bit," said Zimmerman.
"It's still a not-so-hidden agenda of getting people out and active together to promote physical and mental health, and to promote the health of the community," he said.
The move downtown, to Armory Park and the Children's Museum, changed the character of Beyond's main event, he said.
"I'm seeing more kids, more of a sense of community activity" at the downtown site, he said.
"We wanted to show the world that we can take things beyond what maybe they thought of us two years ago," said Tim Bentley, who organized a morning run in Sabino Canyon.
"We as a community have to go beyond, not only what the outside world thinks of us, but what we see as a community. By coming together like this, from all different parts of the community, we say, 'You know what, we're not like that. That's not our community. We're so far beyond that; this is how we've going to live,'" he said.
Nodding as Bentley spoke, Zimmerman said, "That captured pretty well what I hoped it would be."
Tucsonans echoed their appreciation of the gathering.
"The event is a great way to raise awareness from a mental health stand point. This day is no longer something people look back at in sadness," said Ashley Jones, who works for CODAC Behavioral Health Services.
"Tucson has grown so much in the past two years. The community's come together and there's a new awareness - not just across the city, but across the nation," - Sylvia Brown of Tucson Medical Center.
"This will become a great annual tradition. There's something to be said about ritual, tradition and the healing that comes along with that," said Jean Baruch, executive director of local nonprofit Beads of Courage.
Across the street at the Tucson Children's Museum, a long line of parents and kids awaited entrance — the museum offered free admission for the day. Two jumping castles just outside were also fronted by lines of eager children.
'We're with you Newtown'
But despite the upbeat mood of the day and the growing distance from the attacks in Tucson two years ago, there was a significant reminder of a more recent massacre.
A 75-foot banner, reading "We're with you Newtown. From your friends in Tucson, Arizona," hung on the Children's Museum fence.
Thousands of messages of caring and commiseration dotted the banner, as children stood on step-stools, straining to find white space to share their words in writing.
"What heals the most is coming together and showing support," says Rob Elias, vice president of marketing at Pima Federal Credit Union, which had the banner made.
"Newtown experienced a similar tragedy, so what better way to show them our support than to send them this banner on the anniversary of our tragedy?"
Maizie Simpson and Austin McEvoy contributed to this story.