Is it emblematic of America? Or an enigmatic new ground zero…?

It’s been the focus of the border wars and the center of political attention in the battle over immigration laws for the past couple of years. It’s the home state of the last Republican candidate for president and the current Secretary of Homeland Security. News crews have broadcast whole series’ from the state and especially the border region because it is the flashpoint for political tension in this country.

Then, suddenly, on an otherwise sunny Saturday morning, in a normal shopping center in Tucson, a murderous rampage broke out. We can’t wrap our minds around this. Shocked, horrified, jolted out of whatever sensibilities we thought we had, the nation and particularly its fractious leaders gasped in one collective breath. Suddenly, we were under assault again.

“This was an attack on our institutions and on our way of life,” [FBI Director Robert] Mueller told reporters…

“There is no information at this time to suggest any specific threat remains,” Mueller said but added that officials were continuing to investigate any possible ties between the suspect and any hate groups.

Within the first 24 hours, the bipartisan fervor dissipated and, after we heard politicians and media urge us to ‘calm the rhetoric’ and try to find civil discourse, many of them used this tragedy to blame groups of citizens and their beliefs.

But the thing is, the shooter was not neatly defined or aligned with any group. He was as known for left leaning ideologies as he was for so-called right-wing extremism, and didn’t fit into either. Or, as one television news panelist put it, ‘he was situated at the point of the circle where the two farthest extremes met.’

His victims were also across the spectrum. Congresswoman Gabriello Giffords was a Republican who became a Democrat, but a blue dog, one of the breed of new and more conservative members of the party. She was an unlikely target. When the new 112th Congress convened last week with the reading of the Constitution, Giffords took the podium to read the part about the right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition government for redress of grievances.” Just a few days before a lone assassin sought her out in a public assembly to settle whatever his disordered grievances were by gunfire at close range.

The views, beliefs, political ideology or positions in life mattered not at all to this murderer. Chief Judge John Roll was killed, because he happened to be in “the wrong place at the wrong time.” After attending Mass that morning, as he did every day, Judge Roll came by the civic gathering to talk to the congresswoman about the judicial caseload.

Stephen Paul Barnard, a Tucson defense attorney who has known Roll since the 1970s when they were both city prosecutors, said the judge’s death is “insurmountable, senseless and tragic.”

“At least to me and other people who knew him as a person, he was the symbol of what a human being strives to be and he was taken away overnight,” Barnard said in a phone interview.

Barnard, a Democrat, said Roll, who he described as a conservative Republican, enjoyed lively discussions about politics “but always with humor, never anger.”

That’s what we’re supposed to be striving for. We can’t grasp the senselessness of this tragedy.

And then there’s the other innocent bystanders….though all the victims were innocent enough human beings not to deserve execution. This one has really caught the public’s attention.

Among the dead was a 9-year-old girl, the granddaughter of noted former baseball manager Dallas Green and the daughter of Dodgers baseball scout John Green. In emotional appearances on several networks, Roxanna Green described her daughter, Christina Taylor Green, as an angel, born Sept. 11, 2001, the day of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

Noting that her daughter’s life began and ended in tragedy, Green called for an end to violence.

“I just want her memory to live on that she’s a face of hope, face of change, face of … us coming together as a country to stop the violence and hatred and the evil wars,” Green said on MSNBC. “We have to protect our government officials and our innocent young children.”

By the grace of God. Nothing short of that.

What else can you say?

This was startling. But then, everything was beyond reason on this weekend of violent eruption. On one of the networks providing continuing breaking news coverage of this tragedy, a medical expert came on frequently to answer questions about the bullet wound to Congresswoman Giffords’ brain, and how she could have survived it and what might be the damage. ‘This is a miracle,’ he said repeatedly, this scientifically trained scholar known for textbook explanations. He was clearly shaken, trying to explain how a bullet fired at close range to the head took the trajectory it did, with the pathway damage it had to leave, without killing the victim immediately. And furthermore, how it was that she was responsive to doctors working to save her life.

That was already taken care of, by another hand. With time running out on the news segment and the need to wrap up evident, the doctor made sure he stated what was to him the most convincing conclusion: ’This is a miracle. This is a direct intervention from the Almighty.’

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....