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Posted at 10:36 AM ET, 01/12/2011

Story pick: Four lives, one YMCA

By Ian Shapira

In a small city like Tucson, perhaps it was bound to have happened: three victims of this past weekend's shooting and their assailant all used or had some tie to the same YMCA. The Post's Amy Gardner interviewed lifeguards and administrators at the Northwest YMCA in Tucson who all knew Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, and the suspected gunman, Jared Loughner.

The lifeguards called Judge Roll "Mr. Smiley" because he was remarkably cheerful for his early morning swims. The YMCA's administrators embraced Giffords as a political ally who procured vital funds for the Y's programs. And the women who run the center's Child Watch program knew Green so well because she hugged them everyday, loved showing off her new gymnastics moves, and took great care to color inside the lines of her drawings.

For the young women in the Child Watch program, the hardest part will be not seeing Christina skipping through the YMCA's soaring, glass-filled lobby or presenting her signed drawings as presents. They could not talk about her without becoming emotional. "There wasn't one day when she wouldn't come and give me the most loving, fulfilling hug ever," said Jamie Petty, 22, a Child Watch attendant and nursing student at Pima Community College who hopes one day to work in pediatrics. "She liked to listen to music. She would always show me her new dance moves or gymnastics moves. She liked to talk. Sometimes we would just sit down and have a girl talk. We would just talk about everything, about her dreams, just stuff at home, everything." Alexis Gibson, 19, another employee who watched Christina in Child Watch, recalled how carefully Christina colored inside the lines in her artwork - and how one day, she gave her a drawing of a reindeer with the words "Lexie Rocks" scrawled below.

But the YMCA officials also knew Loughner. He was the guy who sometimes had outbursts in the cardio room, where he was taking a community college fitness class. The victims and their attacker will always be tied to the Safeway at La Toscana Village in Tuscon, the site of the shooting. But this story shows that it was another everyday community hub, the local YMCA, where the victims and the gunman perhaps passed by each other multiple times without ever knowing their collective fate.

By Ian Shapira  | January 12, 2011; 10:36 AM ET
Categories:  Story Picks  
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Next: Story pick: Chronicles of Loughner

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