55-Year Marriage Ends as Wife, High School Sweetheart Is Fatally Shot in Tucson Rampage

VIDEO: 79-year-old Phyllis Schneck was very active with her church and family.
Share
Copy

Married for more than 55 years, Dorothy and George Morris were seldom apart.

And it was no different Saturday, when the high school sweethearts attended Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' meet-and-greet event at a Safeway grocery story in Tucson, Ariz.

The gunfire sprayed into the weekend crowd was most likely the first thing to split up the couple in decades, their friends say.

While she is believed to be one of the first people to die at the scene, her husband and "soulmate" is recovering from multiple gunshot wounds and is expected to survive, according to Bill Royle, a childhood friend of the couple.

"Their relationship was like they just got married yesterday," Royle said. "Years later, he still called her 'his sweetheart.'

"They were soulmates," Royle added. "They were together all the time. Everything they did, they did together."

George Morris, a retired United Airlines pilot, and Dorothy -- or "Dot," as she was nicknamed -- first started dating at Reno High School in Tucson and have been together ever since. They have two daughters, and she was a stay-at-home mom.

Bonnie Royle, one of her best friends, recalled that Dorothy Morris loved to cook and entertain.

"She cared about people and was very compassionate and loving," Royle said.

George Morris knows his wife did not survive the shooting and is trying to "stay strong" for the couple's daughters, according to the Royles, who're married.

"I'm not sure how he'll move forward, but he will," Bonnie Royle said.

Also caught in the crossfire of Saturday's shooting were Dorwan Stoddard and wife Mavy Stoddard, who hit the ground trying to save themselves from the gunman's frenzy.

"He did what any loving husband would do, dive on a grenade for his wife," Michael Nowak, a pastor at Mountain Avenue Church of Christ in Tucson and a friend of the couple, said.

Dorwan Stoddard, 76, lay on top of his wife, protecting her from the torrent of bullets. Mavy Stoddard thought her husband was hurting her by lying on top of her, not realizing that she'd been shot three times in the legs, Nowak said.

Dorwan Stoddard was fatally wounded, dying at the scene of the mass shooting that has left six dead and 14 injured.

The two had known each other all their lives but had only fallen in love 15 years ago after each had lost their spouses, Nowak said. Now Mavy Stoddard is preparing to bury a husband for the second time.

"It's a shock," Nowak said. "She has moments of breakdown, but is always positive that he's in heaven. When she comes to church here next week, it's really going to hit her very hard."

The Stoddards are an integral part of the 140-member congregation at Mountain Avenue. Dorwan Stoddard volunteered as the head of the benevolence ministry and the maintenance ministry.

"He was a teddy bear, he didn't have a mean bone in him," Nowak said. "He couldn't say no to anybody inside the church, outside the church. ... He was always reaching into his wallet to give people money."

The retired construction worker had a history of heart attacks but didn't let his health stop him. He was known to drive his truck to help people move.

At church services on Sunday, the congregation remembered Dorwan Stoddard and prayed for Mavy Stoddard's health. She is still in the hospital, Nowak said.

Church members also prayed for the other dead victims: John Roll, Gabriel Zimmerman, Phyllis Schneck, Dorothy Morris and Christina-Taylor Green.

Christina-Taylor Green: 9/11 Baby

Christina-Taylor, 9, was the youngest victim of Saturday's shooting. She was born Sept. 11, 2001.

Christina-Taylor had just been elected as president of the student council at Mesa Verde Elementary School.

Roxanna Green, Christina-Taylor's mother, said her daughter had attended the event to learn "more about the political process."

Christina-Taylor is the granddaughter of former Phillies manager Dallas Green. Her father is John Green, a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Christina-Taylor was taken to Giffords' informal town hall meeting by a neighbor, said her mother.

The girl had recently received communion at St. Odilia Parish in Tucson, where she also sang in the choir. Christina-Taylor was the only girl on a boys little league baseball team.

"She was a beautiful girl inside and out," Green said. "She was wonderful and very intelligent."

The oldest victim in the tragedy, Phyllis Schneck, 79, was remembered by friends on Facebook.

"She was a member of our church and of our craft group," Julie Crane posted on her Facebook wall. "I will miss her great disposition, her laugh, and smile. She was always a helper, such a sweetheart. Our prayers go out to her children and grandchildren."

Crane attended Norminster Presbyterian Church with Schneck and was on the crafts committee with her, she told ABC News. Members of the church remembered her at services Sunday.

"There were a lot of tears today," Crane said. "We're going to miss Phyllis a great deal."

Schneck had received a robo-call from Giffords and went to the political gathering to see her speak, Crane said.

"She was very interested in what our government is doing," Crane said.

The grandmother was known for her ability to bake sweets such as almond cookies and brownies with mint chips in them. She also was a talented seamstress, sewing beautiful quilts, Crane said.

Schneck was a widow who spent part of the year in Tucson and her summers in her native New Jersey. She was a mother of three and a grandmother.

"She was very outgoing, She was always active in the community," Schneck's son, Ernest Schneck, told WABC. "She loved to cook. She loved to bake. ? She liked to make quilts and knit. She was a family person, she was very, very devoted to her family."

Also killed in the shooting was U.S. District Court Judge John Roll. Roll, 63, had served on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona since 1991.

"He was a good judge," said retired Chief Judge Thomas Zlaket, who sat on the bench with Roll. "But first and foremost he was a good human being."

Tucson Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas recalled that Roll often attended early morning mass before work.

"Judge Roll was a person of great faith and great integrity," Kicanas said in a statement. "He lived his faith as a servant of our nation for the cause of justice."

Roll leaves behind a wife, three sons and five grandchildren.

Gabriel Zimmerman, a staffer for Giffords, also died. Zimmerman, 30, was the director of community outreach for the congresswoman.

He had organized the "Congress on your Corner" event.

"I got a call from Gabe's fiancee, Kelly, saying some people have been shot," Zimmerman's father, Ross Zimmerman, said.

Gabriel Zimmerman had been looking at wedding chapels last week with his fiance, Kelly O'Brien.

Zimmerman, an avid runner, had been a social worker before joining Giffords' staff in 2006.

"He had a real knack for connecting with people," Zimmerman's father said.

ABC's Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.

Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...