I can still hear my son's voice if I reflect for a moment. "Daddio"or "Father" was a common greeting. We're just short of four years since the shootings in which Gabe and five others were killed. I might have another 30 years or so of life. Will I still remember his voice near the end of my life?
The Tucson shooting, as the rest of the world knows it, occurred on Jan. 8, 2011, when a mentally disturbed young man fixated on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He showed up armed at the Congress on Your Corner event at a Safeway on the southeast corner of Ina and Oracle roads. In much less than a minute of shooting, he shot Congresswoman Giffords and 18 others before event attendees subdued him.
You've heard many stories of mass shootings, but Tucson's had the unfortunate distinction of being the first time in U.S. history that a female federal elected official was wounded in a shooting.
My son Gabe Zimmerman was the first Congressional aide in our history murdered in the line of duty on our soil. We also lost a 9-year-old girl, Christina-Taylor Green, a sitting federal judge, John Roll, and three other citizens, Dorwin Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck and Dorothy Morris.
Everyone loses their loved ones, but when we don't expect it, if it's out of order, that's hard. I understand that better than I once did. What I've been aware of since the shooting is an intertwining of echoes of my son and ripples caused by the event. I'll touch on some of those.
In my family, the ripples included the conversations we began with an array of people that led to the Beyond events (beyond-tucson.org). This coming Jan. 10, we'll have 18 events in the Tucson area. The original idea was to promote active engagement with the world and the people in it, which we hope promotes mental and physical health.
More recently, we've started to add a nutrition component, reflecting what I've learned since the shootings about nutrition's effects on the body and brain (nutritionequation.org ).
An echo of Gabe intertwined with Beyond is Michelle Crow, the community organizer who was Gabe's counterpart in Congressman Raul Grijalva's office. She knew Gabe well and has many of his communication and organization skills, plus his good heart. I know I can trust Michelle to accomplish all organizational complexity that really makes Beyond happen. Another set of echoes come from the people of Tucson Medical Center, who have sustained Beyond after its first year. They knew Gabe and support the mission of Beyond.
Gabe's former boss, former Congressman Ron Barber, started the Fund for Civility, Respect, and Understanding (fundforcivility.org). He's working to address mental illness and bullying. Gabe thought very well of Ron, with occasional puzzlement over the strange state Ron could put his computer into. Their ultimate boss, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her astronaut husband Mark Kelly chose to tackle the complicated issues of responsible gun ownership with Americans for Responsible Solutions (americansforresponsiblesolutions.org).
The family of Christina Taylor Green, the 9-year-old-victim, started a memorial foundation that did good work for several years in her name (christina-taylorgreen.org). There's a courthouse in Yuma named in honor of Judge Roll (www.azd.uscourts.gov/locations/yuma). Several other survivors of the shootings or family members of the lost have pursued issues related to the shootings.
Another ripple was the creation of the January 8 Memorial Foundation (tucsonsmemorial.org). I'm on the foundation board partly as an echo of Gabe, because I figure if he were still around he'd want to support the community effort the memorial work represents. There are several nice memorials to our son in the Tucson area and in Washington D.C., but we need a proper memorial to the entire event, which was arguably an attack on the normal processes of democratic discourse in our nation. We've catalogued the spontaneous memorials created at the Safeway, University Medical Center, and the Giffords District Office.
We're collecting the oral histories. We're in the midst of selecting a design firm to work with the community on a public memorial next to the historic Pima County Courthouse, the original seat of our local government. People who knew Gabe, and memories of him, come up frequently.
A ripple and echo of special significance to me revolves around the Gabe Zimmerman Davidson Canyon Trailhead on the east edge of the Tucson Basin (http://webcms.pima.gov/cms/one.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=6152). The Pima County Board of Supervisors, the Arizona Trail Association (ATA), and several collaborators created this at a very nice spot on the Arizona Trail, albeit one Gabe had only visited once with his mother, Emily.
Since then we've used the Gabe Z Trailhead as part of the route of the Colossal Vail 50/50, an Arizona Trail ultra-marathon running event (aztrail.org/cv5050/ ). Matt Nelson, the ATA's executive director, worked closely with us. I've known Matt for years. His fearless nature, affability, and relentless good humor remind me very much of my son, which gives me pleasure.
Nothing replaces my son. As well as the normal father and son bond, Gabe was the person with whom I was most likely to share my latest ideas.
He was a source of good counsel. But his loss has forced me to expand in ways I didn't expect. I've met many new people involved with many ripples. They aren't Gabe, but they're good people, which gives me some hope for the future.