TUCSON, Ariz. – The yellow police tape was gone, the “Temporarily Closed” signs out front replaced with a memorial as employees prepared to reopen the Safeway store where a week earlier six people had been killed and 13 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
The first few workers entered the store before it opened at 7 a.m. Some paused to lean against the metal barricades in front of the impromptu memorial – flowers, candles, ribbons and Giffords campaign signs – and lay carnations on the cement where they had seen bloody bodies. They planned to return to observe a moment of silence to mark the moment the shooting began, at 10:11 a.m.
Until then, retirees walked their dogs around the L-shaped shopping plaza and met to share the paper at Beyond Bread cafe. Some had attended memorial services earlier in the week for the shooting victims. Others bought flowers they planned to place later Saturday at the growing tribute outside University Medical Center, where Giffords remains hospitalized.
Delivery truck drivers unloaded boxes, eyeing the growing crowd of onlookers and television vans. Regular customers filed into Great Cuts, Honeybaked Ham, Walgreens and Jenny Craig, sharing stories with employees about the aftermath of the shooting – how they were trapped inside the buildings on lockdown as helicopters landed outside and sheriff’s deputies with assault rifles secured the plaza.
By 9 a.m., about 50 people had gathered outside the grocery store, awaiting the moment of silence. Others avoided the scene, going in for milk and rushing back to their cars.
An elderly woman in a red jacket was almost at her car when she turned to face the store. Silently, she bowed her head and stretched out both hands. Minutes passed. Cars drove by. Finally, she crossed herself and drove away.
Mothers tried to explain to children the same age as 9-year-old shooting victim Christina Taylor Greene why it was important to come here today, and why they should not be afraid even though adults were crying.
Eloisa Jaenicke, 60, an elementary school teacher and born-again Christian, worried about the devil.
Nine-year-old Hugh Hart worried about copycat shooters.
Marja Walker, 48, a graphic designer, worried about Giffords, the Arizona Democrat, and about other politicians who may avoid community events for fear that they, too, might be attacked.
The crowd continued to grow until about 100 were present. Shortly after 10 a.m., about a dozen employees filed back outside, arms entwined.
Together, they bowed their heads.
“We saw the darkest side of life that you can ever imagine,” said one of the workers, Dawn Gallagher, 53.
Afterwards, some customers prayed with a volunteer chaplain. Others spotted Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, whose daughter works for Safeway, and walked over to shake his hand. At Beyond Bread, a half-dozen women set up a grief circle and sat talking.
Gallagher, wearing her apron and plastic name tag, stood at a distance from the dwindling crowd in the parking lot. A Tucson native, she helped open the Safeway store in 1992. She, too, had rushed outside after the shooting. Every day as she returns to work, Gallagher said, she will confront the same memories – co-workers tending the injured, the firefighters’ faces, the frustration, “and that little girl, Christina. Oh, Christina.”
By now it was 11 a.m., and she had to open her register. She stared a moment longer at the scene outside, hugged her sister goodbye and headed back to work.