PHOENIX (AP) — Survivors of the mass shooting that left former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords severely wounded are pleading with the public to help pay for a long-planned memorial after state funding fell through during this year's session of the Arizona Legislature.
The Jan. 8, 2011, shooting at a Giffords meet-and-greet event outside a grocery store in Tucson, Arizona, left six dead and 13 injured, including the former congresswoman. Shooter Jared Loughner was sentenced to life in prison.
The January 8th Memorial Foundation has spent the past several years raising money for a $5 million memorial in downtown Tucson that would include carved symbols along a dark red steel wall, items from makeshift memorials following the shooting and areas to reflect.
The Arizona House of Representatives approved $2.5 million in funding this year for the project over five years, but the bill was never heard in the Senate.
Crystal Kasnoff, the foundation's executive director, said it's a mystery why the bill didn't get support in the Senate like it did in the House. But former U.S. Rep. Ron Barber, a shooting victim who took over Giffords' seat before losing a re-election bid in 2014, said Monday that the issue became unjustly politicized. Barber worked for Giffords at the time of the shooting.
Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut, founded Americans for Responsible Solutions, a political action committee that aims to tighten gun laws.
"I'm really concerned that people who wanted to stop this memorial from being funded in the Senate decided to politicize it. And it's not political, but that's what they made it," Barber said.
Fundraising for the memorial to honor victims of the Giffords shooting began a few years ago. The project has raised $1.7 million so far, most of which will be used for construction. The foundation is also hosting an online fundraiser that has pulled $6,500 of its $1.5 million goal.
Survivors like Ken Dorushka, who was shot in the arm while shielding his wife, Carol, from Loughner, say the memorial is crucial for the community to remember and reflect on the tragic event.
Dorushka said during a news conference on Monday that he was awed by the response from the Tucson community following the shooting.
Thousands of people set up makeshift memorials outside of the hospital where most patients were treated, at Giffords' office and at the grocery store where the shooting took place. Many of those items, including stuffed animals, signs and balloons, are archived at a Tucson museum. Some will also be used at the memorial.
"These were remarkable to us because what they gave us was the feeling that all of you out there in the community cared. All of you were supportive," Dorushka said. "But it's important for us to reflect and teach young kids what happened that day and what the reaction of this town was."
Nancy Bowman is a nurse who was at the grocery store and ran out to render aid to victims.
"When I finally got home that day and got into the shower and watched the blood of other people swirl down the shower drain, I went out and put my head in my husband's lap and I just shook. I just shook," Bowman said.
Bowman said she found comfort in outreach from neighbors, friends and strangers.
"It just seemed like the entire community just embraced us and enveloped us in love and concern and care, compassion and support," Bowman said. "There needs to be a place in the community where we can come and remember who Tucson is."