Family, Friends Gather for Funeral of 9-Year-Old Shooting Victim Christina-Taylor Green

VIDEO: Remembering the youngest victim of the Tucson shooting: Christina-Taylor Green.
Share
Copy

Arizona dignitaries and the family and friends of 9-year-old shooting victim Christina-Taylor Green gathered Thursday to celebrate her life during the first funeral service for the six people who lost their lives in last week's tragic shooting in Tucson.

Green's small casket was brought into the church underneath a flag that flew at the World Trade Center on 9/11, a tribute to a young girl who was born on the day the Twin Towers fell and died in another tragedy outside of an Arizona supermarket.

Green's family members met the casket and solemnly escorted it into St. Elizabeth-Ann Seton Catholic Church for the afternoon ceremony.

The church was filled with roughly 1,800 mourners who paid their respects to the young girl whose life was cut short as she stood waiting to meet Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz. The husband of the severely wounded Giffords, Astronaut Mark Kelley, was on hand for the service, as were Arizona's two Senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, both Republicans.

Also in the pews were many of Green's young friends, classmates and Little League teammates. About one-quarter of the attendees were children, according to Arizona Daily Star's Stephanie Innes, who attended the service as a pool reporter.

"She wanted to make a difference in her life. She wanted to make her mark, and she did so in so powerful a way that even she cannot imagine," said Bishop Gerald Kicanas during his homily, adding that the slain 9-year-old was also an organ donor.

The only other speaker during the service was Christina-Taylor's father, John Green, who spoke directly to his daughter.

"You have affected the whole country," Green said, according to Innes. He also shared his thanks to the Tucson community for their support.

The somber hour-and-a-half long mass included songs by the University of Arizona choir. A friend of Christina-Taylor's sang Billy Joel's "Lullaby."

As a bagpiper played at the end of the service, Green's mother, father and brother escorted her casket back outside to a hearse waiting under the 9/11 flag.

Representatives from the New York City Fire Department brought the 9/11 flag to Arizona for the service, where it was hung from two Tucson Fire Department ladder trucks. The enormous banner includes the remnants of a 30-foot American flag that survived the 2001 terror attacks.

Christina-Taylor was the youngest of all the victims of the shooting rampage in Tucson last weekend.

The 9-year-old, who was born on 9/11, had been recently elected a member of her elementary school's student council and was intensely interested in politics.

President Barack Obama spoke about the third-grader at a memorial service in Tucson last night. "I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it," Obama said.

Her classmates from Mesa Verde Elementary School left handwritten messages alongside colorful ribbons, candles and flowers placed at the chain link fence near their playground.

School officials said crisis teams would be at the school for, "many days ... as long as we need to be here."

Many of Christina-Taylor's classmates were expected to attend the funeral, which grief experts say can be important, as long as they are prepared and a loved one goes with them.

Difficult to Explain Death to Young Children

Pat Loder understands just how tough it is to explain senseless death to children. Loder buried both her children -- 8-year-old Stephanie and 5-year-old Stephen -- in a shared coffin two decades ago this March.

A speeding motorcycle broadsided Loder's car as she attempted to turn left onto her street. Her only children died of injuries in the crash.

"It was very difficult for my daughter's classmates," said Loder, now 55 and executive director of Compassionate Friends, an international support group that helps those who have lost children.

"I am sure these kids will have nightmares," she said. "It was traumatic and violent. Ours was a sudden death, too. One day they are playing with a playmate and the next day there were gone."

"And it makes them feel unsafe," Loder said. "In their mind's eye, it's not safe to go to the corner market or to a friend's house without someone else. It's a natural part of the process."

But are these young grievers too young to attend the funeral?

"It's a very grown-up thing that happened to this little girl," said Loder. "She died, and these children are trying to make a grown-up decision about whether they want to go or not."

"Don't force them to go and don't keep them from going," she said. "They will regret it if they don't go if they feel they need to. They may not look at the casket. Let them lead the way."

Loder was so worried about her own daughter's classmates' reaction to the funeral that she arranged a closed coffin with photos of her children laid on top.

Stephen, 5, and Stephanie, 8, Loder were killed in a 1991 car crash in Michigan.

The Loders didn't want to make the experience for those younger children even more traumatic. "We didn't want her classmates to remember her that way."

Christina-Taylor Green Friends Will Want to 'Do Something'

Children left ribbons, drew pictures and sent handwritten notes, gestures that Loder said "helped me a great deal." One classmate, Amanda, who lived in the neighborhood, routinely left freshly picked flowers in the Loders' mailbox after the accident.

She appeared one day after the accident with a deck of Uno cards. "I'm lonely, and I'm pretty sure you are too," she told Loder, leading her to the kitchen table.

"My eyes started to moisten as I sat down at the table to play," writes Loder on the Compassionate Friends Web site. "Amanda got up, hugged me tight, and whispered quietly, 'I miss them too.'"

Loder said Christina-Taylor's Tucson friends will also want to do something for their classmate, "because they are hurting."

"We heard this over and over again and it didn't matter if my daughter had never mentioned the person," she said. "We heard, "She was my best friend." They think that whatever relationship they had with that child is extra important and it is."

Loder advises parents to allow children to "do something to help them nurture the grief they are feeling. Kids are kids and they will need to do a project to remember their classmate, like plant a tree."

Parents also need to be open to questions, according to Dr. Alan Kazdin, a leading child psychiatrist and director of the Yale Parenting Center.

"Make it so you're an 'askable' parent," he said. "'What's it like when a bullet goes in the head, mommy?' 'Why did someone want to kill my friend?' Don't not answer, which will increase a child's thinking about it."

Some children cope with loss better than others because of their temperament.

The children could be subjected to "secondary terrorism" -- a concept which emerged after 9/11 when people became psychologically scarred by rewatching everything on TV, he said.

"Children get anxiety just by watching everything about the shooting on TV," said Kazdin. "You don't want to paper over it as if nothing happened, but you don't want to keep replaying the scenes. ... Rituals and routines for children and adults relieve anxieties and are important."

Children who are not directly affected by the Tucson shootings can also be just as traumatized.

Tucson Tragedy Affects All Children

"All American children are touched by the tragedy," said Dr. Paula Rauch, director of the Marjorie Korff Parenting at a Challenging Time Program at Massachusetts General Hospital.

"Children have heard about this event from TV, from grown-ups talking - the death of a child is so evocative for all of us," she said.

"As adults, we have the ability to understand," said Rauch. "This event could have happened anywhere, but kids feel like it happened at their school."

She said parents should "check in" with their children and start a conversation in the "most general and open-ended way."

Ask children, "What are kids talking about at school? Is there anything you are worrying or wondering about?"

Or for a reticent child, "Have you heard the sad news from Arizona?" or "I heard it happened at a grocery store. You may be worried about mom going to the store."

Young children can naturally wonder if what happened to Christina-Taylor could happen to them.

"They may want to understand why people could do such a tragic thing," she said. "It's better to answer them at home and put it in perspective: 'That is very sad but there are more helpers than hurters in the world.' Focus on the idea that there are always lots of people wanting to do the right thing."

And tell children that these acts of violence are rare.

Attending the funeral can be a "life lesson" for children, as well, according to Rauch.

"Kids need to know why people have funerals and it's a coming together as a community when there is something sad," she said. "These are family values to share with a child."

ABC reporter Devin Dwyer contributed to this report.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...