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Shooting victim's widow tells Tucson: 'Hang in there. Hang onto your loved ones'

Mavy Stoddard speaks out at the funeral of her husband, Dorwan. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' condition improves.

January 17, 2011|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske and David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Tucson — Near the end of Sunday's funeral for her husband, Mavanell "Mavy" Stoddard — still in a wheelchair eight days after she was shot five times in the legs — gestured to one of her husband's four sons. She had something to say.

Stoddard, 75, one of the victims in the shootings that killed her husband and five others and injured 13, was about to speak.

The pastor and musicians paused. A hush fell over the crowd of about 1,000 in Calvary Tucson East Baptist Church as Stoddard was wheeled to the front, wearing a bright pink jacket with black lace trim. She gripped the microphone and spoke slowly, thoughtfully at first.

She spoke the name of her husband, Dorwan Stoddard, 76, who was shot in the head outside a Safeway supermarket Jan. 8 as he attempted to shield his wife.

"He made me a better person. He made me kinder. He made me know there are good men," she said, resisting tears, her hand trembling as if she might drop the microphone.

And then, suddenly, she smiled. "He spoiled me rotten," she said. "And oh gosh, it was fun."

Now the words came faster. It seemed she had something to say, something important.

"He died for me," she said, her voice firm, "and I have to live for him."

Her hand stopped trembling. Stoddard is strong. Since leaving the hospital last week, she has refused pain medication and began using a walker, one of her four daughters said.

"I will survive," she continued as the crowd began to applaud. "We will not let that gunman take our hopes."

The applause was so loud that it almost drowned out her next words. But she kept talking. Hear this, her voice said. This is the most important part:

"Hang in there. Hang onto your loved ones. Keep kissing them and hugging them, because tomorrow they may not be there."

Dorwan, known as "Dory," and Mavy had been married for 15 years, a second marriage for both. They had grown up together in Tucson, sixth-grade sweethearts who traveled the world as retirees.

A husband's final sacrifice was recounted not only at his memorial but in pulpits and pews throughout this grieving city Sunday.

"He lived a heroic life, and his last heroic act was saving his wife," Stoddard's pastor, the Rev. Mike Nowak, said in an interview after morning services at Mountain Avenue Church of Christ, where the Stoddards worshiped for 15 years.

At Mavy's request, Nowak abandoned his customary purple sneakers and wore black cowboy boots, as Stoddard wore to church.

Nowak said he had told parishioners not to judge the shooting suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, harshly.

"I tell them not to harbor ill feelings towards this troubled young man,'' he said. "If you do, you will never get over this tragedy.''

For eight days, Tucson has endured the shock of the shootings and the grief of funerals, with more burials to come. The city has waited daily for each update on the condition of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who was shot in the head point-blank.

On Sunday, her condition was upgraded from critical to serious because she is no longer on a ventilator.

"The congresswoman continues to do well. She is breathing on her own," University Medical Center said in a statement. "Yesterday's procedures were successful and uneventful.''

Giffords had been breathing on her own for several days, but physicians kept her on the ventilator to prevent pneumonia. A patient on a ventilator is normally kept in the intensive care unit and listed in critical condition.

The surgical team on Saturday also inserted a tracheotomy tube into her throat in case she had trouble breathing, and a small feeding tube into her stomach to deliver nutrients.

Giffords can move both sides of her body, a senator who is a friend of the congresswoman said Sunday.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said she had talked with Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark E. Kelly, on Saturday night.

"She's making progress every day," Gillibrand said. "She's using both sides of her body. She's able to breathe on her own. She's able to open her eyes and to show people she understands what she's hearing and seeing. So … it's an extraordinary amount of progress for a woman who sustained such a horrific injury."

Gabriel Zimmerman, Giffords' aide, also was mourned Sunday. Kelly told those at the funeral that Zimmerman's idealism inspired his wife, according to the Arizona Republic. "She loved him like a younger brother," Kelly said. "I know someday she'll get to tell you herself how she felt about Gabe."

Also Sunday, one of the other shooting victims, James Eric Fuller, 63, was involuntarily committed for a mental health evaluation, which by law must run a minimum of 72 hours.

Pima County sheriff's spokesman Jason Ogan said Fuller, who was arrested after disrupting a town hall meeting on the shootings Saturday, had been charged with threats and intimidation and with disorderly conduct.

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