It is still difficult for Roxanna and John Green to talk about Jan. 8, 2011, the last day they saw their 9-year-old daughter Christina-Taylor Green. Basking in the glow of her recent election to her school's student council, Christina was on her way to meet the real thing-Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Decked out in her peace-sign hoodie and sparkly sneakers, Christina hopped in the car of family friend Suzi Hileman and waved goodbye before setting off on a girls' day out. First stop, a local Tucson shopping plaza for a town hall meeting with the congresswoman. "Christina was so excited," says her mother, Roxanna. "She was saying, 'I'm going to meet Gabrielle Giffords!'"
"Then I got the call to go immediately to the hospital," recalls Roxanna. "We didn't know what was wrong, just that we needed to get there fast." Driving with her older son Dallas in the car, Roxanna grew increasingly worried. "Our route took us by the plaza where the shooting had happened," she says. "I could see yellow tape and police lights. I thought, 'What's going on?'"
The Greens would soon learn the horrible truth: Christina's life was cut short when she became the youngest victim of that day's shooting rampage, which killed six and seriously wounded Giffords as well as 12 others. In the months since the tragedy, alleged gunman Jared Loughner, a 23-year-old loner with a troubled history, has yet to stand trial. Meanwhile, Roxanna and her husband, John, leaned on friends, family and their Catholic faith to cope with their loss. With a new book celebrating Christina's brief but full life and a foundation established in her name to fund youth programs (see box), they hope their experience might help others faced with the loss of a young child.
In the weeks after the shooting, "our instinct was to climb into bed and stay there for the rest of our lives," says John. "But if there is anything I can offer to help people out there who are in this situation, it is to surround yourself with people who love you. We didn't want anybody, but they came anyway. And that saved us."
Even in their grief, Roxanna and John found the strength to console friend Suzi Hileman, wounded at Christina's side. Says Roxanna: "I knew Suzi was living with guilt, but I assured her she could have done nothing to change what had happened."
Now, one year later, the greatest healing for the Greens comes by remembering the tenacious little girl the family lovingly called Bobcat. Born on Sept. 11, 2001, "Christina always realized she was something different, special," says John, 48, a national scout with the L.A. Dodgers. "She said, 'I was something good that happened on that day.' " As she grew, her life filled with interests such as music, dance, baseball, a love of politics and hanging out with big brother Dallas, 12, who has a form of autism. "Christina was only 9 years old," says Roxanna, 46, a nurse, "but she did amazing things in those nine years. It was like she was 90." Says John, with a laugh: "She wanted to be a veterinarian or a doctor, but only after her major league baseball career and being Beyonce's backup singer."
One memory in particular has comforted the Green family in their grief: "One of the witnesses to the shooting told us how happy Christina looked," says John. "She was jumping up and down, excited to ask Giffords her question. It makes us feel good to know Christina-Taylor was happy until the very last."