Tearful students at Mesa Verde Elementary in Tucson, Ariz., returned to school today for the first time without a beloved classmate, Christina-Taylor Green, who died in Saturday's shooting spree.
Christina-Taylor, 9, was the youngest of the six victims from the attack at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' constituent event outside a suburban grocery store.
Colorful ribbons, balloons, candles, flowers and posters lined a chain-link fence near the playground, alongside handwritten messages from the children who knew Christina-Taylor.
Rachel Cooper Blackmore, 10, kneeled down to tie a pink ribbon to the fence and attach a letter to her friend.
"I am so sorry for your family," she said, reading from the letter. "Their hearts, I hope you can guide them on the pathway to living life because yours was taken short. I will miss you."
"I saw her picture on the news," she said, "and just started crying my eyes out."
Before tying a ribbon to the fence, Christina-Taylor's best friend, Jaime Stone, 10, said, "She was really happy because we were both just elected to student council."
Family and friends have remembered the third-grader as a vibrant and loving personality. Her passion for people and learning more about politics shined through her role on the student council, they said.
"As young as she was, Christina-Taylor talked about getting all the parties to come together so we could live in a better country," her mother, Roxanna Green, said. "She was going to Giffords' event to ask questions about how she could help and to learn more about politics in our country."
Theresa Bier, Christina-Taylor's religion teacher at St. Odilia's Catholic Church, said, "She was very sincere about everything she did. "Given her innocence ... she certainly is with God."
Many believed her death would deeply disturb the community for some time, especially its youngest members, who might be least able to understand it.
Todd Jaeger, Tucson schools associate superintendent, said eight counselors were on hand, meeting first with staff to help them "triage the kids" and "keep things as normal as possible today."
Crisis teams will be in the school for "many days ... as long as we need to be here. If they need help, the kids will be taken privately to rooms to receive help," he said.
The staff of 18 may also need help, he said. "They care about these kids very deeply and are affected by this on a level many can't understand," he said.
Tucson schools superintendent Vicki Balentine said in an e-mail to staff Sunday that they should brace for a difficult, emotional week ahead.
Christina-Taylor's death is "unthinkable to us all," she said. "We are focusing our support at Mesa Verde Elementary School."
Ron Franscell, author of 'Delivered from Evil' and an expert on U.S. mass-murder incidents, said, "In less than 120 seconds, the shooter in the Tucson case has set into motion ripple effects that will last for generations."
"The next generation will assume some of the fears, anxiety, sense of helplessness that have beset people now," he said. "It will be a long process: some won't want to talk about it, based on what I've seen. It's important that they talk but more important that we listen."