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Funeral held for Christina-Taylor Green in Tucson

Family, friends and strangers mourn Christina-Taylor Green, the youngest victim in the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, and remember her as a girl who made a difference.

January 13, 2011|By Seema Mehta and Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times
  • Tucson residents line Shannon Road holding roses and candles as Christina-Taylor Green's funeral procession arrives at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church.
Tucson residents line Shannon Road holding roses and candles as Christina-Taylor… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Tucson and Los Angeles — She had an easy smile and eyes the color of mahogany. She was dainty one minute and a tomboy the next, trading a prim ballet outfit for a Canyon del Oro Little League uniform. She was the only girl on the Pirates, a second basewoman and an occasional pitcher, and quite confident she'd be the first woman in the major leagues.

She fancied things that, even in a cynical age, were hard to argue with: singing, animals, climbing mesquite trees, tending to the less fortunate.

In the days since Christina-Taylor Green was killed — the youngest victim in Arizona's mass shooting last weekend — much has been made of her life. But the hard truth is that she was born on one terrible day and died on another, with just nine years in between. So how could one third-grader have meant so much?

Christina, born on Sept. 11, 2001, was laid to rest Thursday, with little less than the promise of a better nation draped around her slender shoulders. In an address the night before the service, President Obama had challenged Americans to live up to Christina's vision — to be, as the president put it, "better friends and neighbors and co-workers and parents."

"She wanted to make a difference with her life, to make her mark. She has done so in such a powerful way that even she could not have imagined," Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson said in his homily before a capacity crowd of 1,800 people.

The bishop also noted that even in death, Christina helped others: She was an organ donor.

About a quarter of the mourners were children, many of them from Christina's school or baseball league.

"Everybody's going to be OK," her father, John Green, told mourners. "She'd want that." Addressing his daughter directly, he said: "I think you've affected the whole country. We'll never forget you."

The private service was held at the adobe St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church in northwest Tucson near the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The church was decorated with pink flowers and large photographs of a grinning Christina. Mourners spoke at an altar topped with a colorful ojo de Dios, or God's eye, a tradition of Southwest Christianity that dates to Spanish settlers and Native Americans. Some believe the design is a window into the soul of God.

Astronaut Mark E. Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was severely wounded in the attack, was among the mourners. Hundreds more — families with children and elderly neighbors — lined the roadway leading to the church, many carrying single roses.

The crowd grew silent as a black hearse carrying Christina's small wooden casket approached. Amanda Stinnett, 32, wept and hugged a neighbor. Stinnett recalled Christina, a classmate of her children, standing in front of school collecting cans of food and clothes for families the school had "adopted" for the holidays.

"Everyone loved her," she said.

The funeral came five days after a gunman opened fire at a Tucson shopping center, killing six, including Arizona's chief federal judge, and wounding 13. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, faces federal murder and attempted murder charges in the rampage. He is believed to have grown delusional before the attack; authorities believe he became fixated on Giffords.

Christina's funeral was the first held for those killed in the attack; a funeral Mass will be held Friday at the same church for U.S. District Judge John M. Roll.

As she grew, Christina was preoccupied with her unusual birthday; when she was younger, her parents had to correct her when she told people she'd been born on a "holiday." But the Greens came to view that day as one not only of tragedy but of resurrection and aspiration.

As a result, Christina became very patriotic and often wore red, white and blue. She was drawn to the idea of politics and public service, and had recently been elected to the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School. She had gone with her neighbor Susan Hileman to meet their congresswoman.

"It was women being proud of other women," Hileman's husband, Bill, said this week.

They were waiting to meet Giffords, hand-in-hand, when the first shots erupted. Hileman was hit three times but survived. Christina was shot once in the chest and died a short time later.

From the earliest hours after the shooting, photographs of a smiling Christina circled the globe and became emblems of the sadness permeating Tucson and Washington. Then, in a widely followed speech delivered Wednesday at the University of Arizona, Obama challenged Americans to live up to Christina's vision of a better world.

"Here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy, just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship, just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future," Obama said. "I want us to live up to her expectations."

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