The crowd responded with gasps and a roar as Ms. Giffords, wearing a vibrant red scarf, walked unaided slowly to the center of the stage, The New York Times reports.
Most had expected her to be there — that is why many had come — but few thought she would be able to play such a central role.
Giffords, still recuperating from the head wound she suffered in the shooting, topped off a daylong series of anniversary tributes and remembrances by attending a candlelight vigil with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly.
The attack left six people dead, 13 wounded and Tucson — which likes to think of itself as a “big small town” — traumatized.
According to the Los Angeles Times, the anniversary showed the city at a crossroads: still mourning “the event,” as it’s sometimes called, yet trying to move on.
“You have to understand: This has always been a very civil community, a community that has always been tied together,” said the mayor, Jonathan Rothschild. “We are a different place.
“We are a city of one million people, and sometimes we acted, to our benefit and detraction, as a community of 50,000 people. For something like this to happen was such a shock. Tucson is a changed community,” he said.
Sunday’s events included two church services, a memorial service and a candlelight vigil. Hundreds gathered for an interfaith service at the St. Augustine Cathedral, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson; a shofar was sounded by a rabbi, a prayer was read from the Koran, and there was a welcome from a Lutheran pastor and the vicar general of the Diocese of Tucson.
Giffords remained animated throughout the hourlong vigil: smiling, sometimes standing, nearly always gripping Kelly’s hand. At least once, he leaned his head on her shoulder.
Giffords is viewed as something of a phoenix here, with her improbable, if still-in-progress, return to health. On Sunday, President Obama called her “an inspiration to his family and Americans across the country” and said he was amazed by the congresswoman’s courage “along her incredible road to recovery.”
Survivors and relatives of the victims then took turns lighting 19 large candles in glass jars, one for each of the six people killed and 13 others wounded when a pistol-toting assailant opened fire at Giffords’ “Congress On Your Corner” meet-and-greet for constituents on January 8, 2011, Reuters informs.
The dead included a 9-year-old girl, a federal judge and a member of Giffords’ staff. The accused gunman, Jared Loughner, 23, a college dropout with a history of mental illness, is charged with 49 offenses, including first-degree murder and the attempted assassination of Giffords.
The most emotional tribute was reserved for Christina-Taylor Green, who was 9 years old.
Two of the girl’s friends — Serenity Hammrich and Jamie Stone, wearing matching black dresses and tights — addressed hundreds of people in a university auditorium. They remembered how Christina-Taylor liked to sing — a favorite was “Evacuate the Dancefloor” — and pick clover outside.
“Sometimes we would just go to the park and lay on our backs and just chill and look at the clouds,” recounted one of the girls, Jamie Stone.
Giffords, 41, has spent much of the last year in Houston undergoing physical and speech therapy. She cast one vote in Congress — to raise the debt ceiling — and recently gave a televised interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. But she has remained largely out of public view.
The congresswoman’s political future remains uncertain, and some people have raised questions about the long-term effects of her injury. In the coming months, she must formally declare whether she will seek a fourth term in Congress.
The suspected gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, has pleaded not guilty to 49 charges in connection with the shooting. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and later confined to the psychiatric ward of a prison hospital after he was declared incompetent to stand trial.