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Residents honor shooting victims at Medford vigil

Still, silent and dressed in black, 50 people stood as a kind of human wall along the sidewalks around downtown Medford's Vogel Plaza Saturday in a vigil for the victims of last week's shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz.

"For an America as good as Christina imagined," stated one sign written in black ink by Eagle Point resident Mike Evans.

Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was the youngest of six people who were killed in the shooting at a meet-and-greet Jan. 8 held by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who is in a hospital with a bullet wound to her head. Twelve other people also were injured. Jared Loughner, 22, who had shown multiple red flags of having mental illness before his alleged act, has been charged in the shootings.

"The events in Tucson were very horrific, and I thought the president had some moving commentary (on it Wednesday), so I borrowed some of his comments," Evans said of his sign. "Our country's founders of the Constitution spoke of perfect unity and freedom of assembly. We have a long way to go when a child is shot at an assembly for getting an early lesson on the democratic process."

The Jackson County Democrats and two Medford anti-war organizations, Women in Black and Citizens for Peace & Justice, joined forces at noon Saturday to hold the vigil at the plaza located at the corner of West Main Street and Central Avenue.

"We wanted to do something to recognize and send our hearts out to the victims of the shooting, something dignified and not political," said Jan Waitt, chair of the Jackson County Democrats.

"The more we know about the shooter, the more we realize the shooting and the political rhetoric did not have a connection," Waitt said.

But discussions about politics and national issues couldn't be stopped. Participants said the event had stimulated important dialogue about the polarizing — and sometimes demonizing — tone of political rhetoric.

"We felt it would be great to do something to remember the victims and make a commitment that lasts longer than a week for more civility in our national dialogue," said Ashland resident Chris Hjelt, who found out about the event from a Peace House newsletter.

Nationally, however, the focus of what contributed to the shooting has shifted to lack of gun regulations and services for those with mental illness. One of Loughner's classmates, for example, described him as a "liberal ... pothead," who was obsessed with Giffords since 2007, a year before the tea party had any national recognition, according to AOL News.

"We need to put more emphasis on mental health and provide the resources necessary to treat everyone who has a problem," said Grants Pass resident Allen Hallmark of Citizens for Peace & Justice. "We don't do that in this country."

Concern about Loughner's mental stability and potential for violence prompted Pima County Community College to ban him from the school until he could receive verification from a mental-health professional that he was not a physical threat to himself or others.

Passersby in vehicles Saturday honked at the participants in a show of support of the 50 people, including two children, who stood almost motionless. The honks broke a silence that seemed pregnant with sadness.

Participants held other signs that included "Tucson, we stand with you" and "Tucson, we grieve with you."

Women in Black hold a similar demonstration each Saturday at the park to oppose the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Women in Black is against violence of all kinds," said organizer Mary Madsen. "We focus on war because of the ongoing conflicts. We felt this was such a grievous act, and the (violent) words and rhetoric permeating the country has reached a peak, we hope."

Doug Breidenthal, chair of the Jackson County Republicans, said he wished his organization had been invited to the vigil, as it would have made a good bipartisan event.

"The shooting had nothing to do with politics," he said, echoing Waitt's comment.

Waitt said notifications about the event made it clear everyone was invited to participate, but there was no specific invitation extended to the Republican Party.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

About 50 people participated in a vigil for the Tucson, Ariz., shooting victims Saturday at downtown Medford’s Vogel Plaza. - Jamie Lusch