TUCSON, Ariz. - 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.
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In the days since Christina-Taylor Green became the youngest of those killed in Arizona’s mass shooting, 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, shot and killed last weekend, 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 Barack 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,” Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas said in his homily, held 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 back to Spanish settlers and American Indians. Some believe the design is a window into the soul of God.
Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in the attack, was among the mourners attending the service. 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, including Giffords. Jared Lee Loughner, 22, faces federal murder and attempted murder charges in the rampage. He is believed to have grown delusional prior to 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,” Susan 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 of 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.” Deviating from his prepared script, the president then ignited a crowd of 13,000: “I want America to be as good as she imagined it.” Led by law enforcement officials in white gloves, pallbearers wheeled Christina’s casket into the church Thursday. Her parents, John and Roxanna Green, and her brother, 11-year-old Dallas, followed, holding hands and bowing their heads.
The entry to the church was framed by a 30-foot-wide flag known as the National 9/11 Flag, which flew atop the south tower of the World Trade Center the day it fell. Shredded and lifted from the wreckage, it was largely forgotten until 2008, when a foundation brought it to Kansas, where volunteers — many of whom had survived a series of tornadoes — used flags found in tornado rubble to patch it up.
The flag will soon become part of the permanent memorial museum on the former site of the World Trade Center. Several mourners noted Christina’s connection with baseball; her father is a Los Angeles Dodgers scout and her grandfather Dallas Green managed the Philadelphia Phillies to a World Series victory in 1980.
A remembrance posted Thursday on the website of Christina’s baseball league noted that she could frequently be found between innings singing pop songs with the right fielder.
She was not, however, a token girl. Last season, after she’d fouled off several pitches, she was plunked hard with a fastball. The rules allowed her to either go to first base or continue her at-bat. Christina replied: “I want to hit.” Her father told the crowd that he would miss “coming from two weeks on the road off baseball, walking in the door and hearing music and seeing my wife and daughter dressed to the nines dancing around the house.” Hundreds of people who had lined the funeral procession remained outside for the duration of the service.
Pamela Keyes’ children, 4-year-old Zia and 6-year-old Zachary, had been brimming with questions since the attack, especially about Christina. For answers, she dressed them in white and brought them to the funeral.
“We’ve talked a lot about good guys and bad guys, the goodness in people, and what happens when someone dies,” said Keyes, 48. “Tucson really needs good will right now.”
Also Thursday, the Pima County Sheriff’s Department revealed that a man walking his dog near Loughner’s house discovered a black bag abandoned in a desert wash. The bag contained 9mm ammunition — the same kind of bullets used in the shooting — and officials said they believed it belonged to Loughner. The FBI was conducting further analysis.
Authorities had said previously that Loughner and his father, Randy Loughner, got into a brief dispute the morning of the shooting when the father caught the son removing a black bag from a family vehicle.