— As you turn into the parking lot, this thought strikes you: This could be anywhere.
From the street, this place where a deranged soul shot so many people — and wreaked havoc on so many lives — looks like a thousand other shopping centers.
You see the sign for La Toscana Village — home of Safeway, Walgreen’s and a number of specialty shops and restaurants — and you almost miss the memorial flowers and balloons by the road.
You pull closer to the front door of the supermarket and see more flowers, more balloons and an array of candles, ribbons, flags, teddy bears and a “Giffords: U.S. Congress” campaign placard.
You see handwritten signs with words such as “hope,” “love,” “peace” and “forgive.”
You see shoppers going in and out of the store — almost like normal but not quite. Inevitably, the shoppers stop, reflect and bow their heads before pushing their grocery carts to their cars.
You shed tears.
I was home in Oklahoma City — 1,000 miles away — when I heard about the mass shooting at a meet-your-congresswoman event hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
“My 1st Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later,” Giffords wrote on her Twitter page minutes before a would-be assassin shot her point-blank through the head.
Somehow, she survived, although she faces a long, difficult road to recovery.
Six other victims — including Mountain Avenue Church of Christ member Dorwan Stoddard — were not so fortunate. They lost their lives.
As I followed news coverage of the rampage, I felt the same queasy ache in the pit of my stomach that accompanied the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. I prayed for the victims and the gunman.
I know I was not alone.
Not until a few hours later did The Christian Chronicle
learn of the Mountain Avenue church’s heartbreaking, direct connection to the tragedy.
My friend Bobby Valentine, pulpit minister of the Palo Verde Church of Christ in Tucson, confirmed that Dorwan Stoddard had been killed and his wife, Mavy, wounded.
“He has gone to be with the Lord,” Valentine said of Dorwan Stoddard.
“They were active members in the church,” he said of the couple, whom he knew through a Bible camp board and joint activities between the two congregations. “It’s a big tragedy.”
We sent a news alert to Chronicle
readers reporting on Dorwan Stoddard’s death and requesting prayers for the family and Mountain Avenue church.
Valentine urged me to contact Jessica Knapp, the Mountain Avenue church’s youth ministry leader, for more details.
Knapp was staying in touch with minister Mike Nowak and his wife, Jody — who were at the hospital with Mavy Stoddard — and keeping Mountain Avenue members informed by e-mail and other means.
Ironically, I had met Knapp just a few days before at the National Conference on Youth Ministries in Colorado Springs, Colo. She had attended a session on small-church youth ministry, and I got her contact information to interview her later for a story on that topic (which I still plan to do, by the way). But we had more urgent matters to discuss when I called that Saturday.
Knapp told me that Dorwan Stoddard had died when he tried to protect his wife and was shot in the head.
“He got on top of her and tried to shield her,” Knapp said.
News travels fast in the Internet age, and before long, more than 125 Chronicle
readers posted condolences and prayers
for Mavy Stoddard on our website.
We were particularly pleased when Dorwan Stoddard’s granddaughter left a comment.
“Thank you to everyone for your thoughts and prayers,” Kaitlin Stoddard Bolduc wrote. “My grandfather was an amazing man. If you knew him, it is no surprise that he gave his life for his loving wife.
“They gave everything to each other and were among some of the happiest people I’ve ever known. R.I.P. Grandpa Dorwan. We’ll always love and miss you.”
That’s a sentiment shared by Stoddard’s entire church family — in Tucson and far beyond.
Rest in peace, brother Dorwan.
Bobby Ross Jr. is Managing Editor of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].