As the funeral for the youngest victim of the mass shooting in Arizona was set to begin Thursday, the largest flag recovered from Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center was raised by two fire trucks with ladders extended, and several hundred people lined a road near the church to show support.
Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green was born on Sept. 11, 2001, and featured in a book called “Faces of Hope” that chronicled one baby from each state born on the day terrorists killed nearly 3,000 people. Christina’s funeral is the first for the six victims killed when police said a gunman opened fired on a crowd at an event for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, critically injuring the congresswoman and wounding 13 others.
The third-grader had an interest in politics and had recently been elected to her student council. She was also the only girl on her Little League baseball team and wanted to become the first professional female ball player.
During President Barack Obama’s speech at a memorial Wednesday night, he spoke at length about Christina and reminded the audience that the third-grader’s neighbor had brought her to meet Giffords because of her budding interest in democracy.
“She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted,” he said. “I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it.”
Her funeral was set for 1 p.m. MST (3 p.m. EST). Before it began, cars were parked on both sides of the road, and traffic was backed up. Members of motorcycle groups from Arizona and California parked their bikes in a group. Several hundred people, many dressed in white T-shirts, stood silently along a road near the church. About 20 people were dressed as angels.
They organized over the Internet and by word of mouth, saying they wanted to be there in case members of a Kansas church showed up to protest. The Westboro Baptist Church threatened to picket the funerals for Christina and other victims, but they backed off, in part because a nationally syndicated radio show agreed to host some of their members.
The church is known for protesting at the funerals of slain servicemen and blaming their deaths on the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.
As the city mourned the little girl, more details and documents surfaced about the suspect, Jared Loughner. For four years, he was an unremarkable college student, commuting to classes near his home where he studied yoga and algebra, business management and poetry.
But last year, his classroom conduct began to change. In February, Loughner stunned a teacher by talking about blowing up babies, a bizarre outburst that marked the start of a rapid unraveling for the 22-year-old.
After his first flare-up, campus police decided not to intervene.
“I suggested they keep an eye on him,” an officer wrote.
Loughner’s on-campus behavior grew increasingly erratic, menacing, even delusional. Fifty-one pages of police reports released Wednesday provided a chilling portrait of Loughner’s last school year, which ended in September when he was judged mentally unhinged and suspended by Pima Community College.
New details were also still emerging about the busy morning Loughner had in the hours before the shooting.
According to authorities, Loughner hustled to Walmart twice, was caught by police running a red light but was let go with a warning, and later grabbed a black bag from the trunk of a family car before fleeing into the desert on foot with his suspicious father giving chase. Eventually, he took a cab to the grocery store where he opened fire on Giffords and a line of people waiting to speak to her. Loughner was also carrying a knife but didn’t use it.
Also Thursday, a man walking his dog found a black bag holding ammunition and authorities believed it was discarded by Loughner.
Chief Rick Kastigar with the Pima County Sheriff’s Office told The Associated Press that an 18-year-old found the bag in a neighborhood near where Loughner lives. He went to get another man, who looked inside and saw ammunition.
Just three months before the shooting, Loughner had been kicked out of school.
In a Sept. 23 campus police report, days before his suspension, an officer called to quiet another one of Loughner’s outbursts described him as incomprehensible, his eyes jittery, his head awkwardly tilted.
“He very slowly began telling me in a low and mumbled voice that under the Constitution, which had been written on the wall for all to see, he had the right to his ‘freedom of thought’ and whatever he thought in his head he could also put on paper. … His teacher ‘must be required to accept it’ as a passing grade,” the officer wrote.
“It was clear he was unable to fully understand his actions.”
During his first outburst, in a poetry class, he made comments about abortion, wars and killing people, then asked: “Why don’t we just strap bombs to babies?”
Later, he became hostile with a Pilates instructor when he learned he was going to receive a B in the class.
According to school officials, Loughner studied at the college from the summer of 2005 to September, when he was suspended after campus police discovered a YouTube video in which Loughner claimed the college was illegal under to the U.S. Constitution.
In all, he had five run-ins with police on two campuses.
Loughner was warned that the behavior had to stop.
On Nov. 30, the same day he bought the Glock, Loughner posted a YouTube video, seething about campus police and the college.
“If the police remove you from the educational facility for talking then removing you from the educational facility for talking is unconstitutional,” he said on the video. “The situation is fraud because the police are unconstitutional. … Every Pima Community College class is always a scam!”
School officials told Loughner and his parents that to return to classes he would need to undergo a mental health exam to show he was not a danger. He never returned.
Kelsey Hawkes said Thursday on CBS’ “The Early Show” that when she dated Loughner six years ago when they were both in high school, he showed no violent tendencies and he was a completely different person.
“Very caring, very sweet, a gentle, kind, you know, a little bit quiet. But altogether a pretty great guy,” she said.
Associated Press writers Amanda Lee Myers, Alicia Chang and Gillian Flaccus in Tucson, and Jacques Billeaud and Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.