At Arizona Hospital, Spontaneous Vigil Grows

BY Tom Bearden  January 14, 2011 at 2:03 PM EST

They just keep coming.

When we arrived in Tucson on Sunday afternoon, we went to University Memorial Hospital, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was in intensive care. It was chaotic. Frustrated police officers did their best to direct heavy traffic through a maze of satellite trucks and news vehicles that lined every nearby street.


But people who wanted to pay their respects weren’t deterred. They managed to find a spot to park and walked back to the hospital. Nearly all of them carried something–candles, bunches of flowers, and hastily drawn posters with pictures and expressions of regret and sympathy. They laid them down on the bright green lawn in the circular drive front of the hospital, many of them praying as they did so. That makeshift memorial has been growing ever since.

On Wednesday the shrine was easily six times larger. Hundreds of candles had been lined up to form a long, curving pathway to the hospital entrance. The crowds were bigger, too. Many candles had been extinguished by the occasional gust of wind, but people had left dozens of butane lighters behind and there were plenty of eager hands to re-light them.

People told us they came to show their support for the wounded inside the hospital. Some were quite emotional, openly weeping as they read the messages on posters and banners.

Needless to say, the hospital was not operating normally. On Monday officials asked every incoming patient to show identification, and that caused a line to quickly back up outside the entrance. Some of the people arriving were obviously quite frail. One elderly woman with a cane was clearly in pain, and a security guard dashed inside to find her a wheelchair. Yet in spite of the inconvenience, nobody complained.

There is a similar, smaller shrine several miles away, on the street corner outside Rep. Giffords’ district office. The office never closed after the shooting, even though two staffers were wounded and Community Outreach Director Gabe Zimmerman was killed. The Congresswoman’s Communications Director, C. J. Karamargin, told us she would want them to be available to help their constituents. Karamargin said, “Keeping the office open was really important to us. It was also important for us to send a message that no act of violence was going to deter us from doing the job that the Congresswoman wanted us to do.”