Reporting Kathryn Brown
RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBS New York) — Two of the victims of the massacre in Arizona have strong ties to our area, Kathryn Brown reports.
Phyllis Schneck, 79, grew up in Rutherford, met her husband at Rutherford High School, and still spent summers in New Jersey to see family.
The grandmother was better known for her macaroni and cheese than her involvement in politics, but on Saturday, she went to a community event for Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and became one of six victims killed during a shooting rampage.
“It was the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Betty Jean Offutt, Schneck’s daughter. “I think everyone loved her. She had friends who ranged in age from early 30s on up who adored her.”
Schneck and her late husband Ernest were sweethearts at school. They married, raised their family in New Jersey, then retired to Tucson seven years ago where she was well-known for her work with charities and the Presbyterian Church she attended regularly.
She continued to spend summers in Green Pond to visit her children, grandchildren, and great-granddaughter.
“So it was nice because she would come here and get to spend time with her family as well. Then she would go to Tucson and enjoy the warm weather in Tucson,” her son said.
Ernie Schneck, who still lives in Rutherford with his family, was caught between grief and disbelief. “I’m very solid and then start talking about certain things and I break down,” Schneck’s son said.
He said she wasn’t too interested in politics. “She was more active with the church. She liked doing handiwork, she quilted.”
Schneck heard about the shooting but didn’t realize his mother was there until Saturday night, when he hadn’t been able to reach her all day.
A policeman showed up at his door. “When he came in and asked me if I had heard what had happened in Tucson, that basically was when I knew,” he recounted.
Despite his emotions, Schneck said he wasn’t angry at the shooter. “No, he had his own demons I think. Nobody in his right mind would do something like that.”
Schneck told CBS 2 he was planning to leave Tuesday and travel to Tucson to be with his two sisters.
Another victim with local ties is Christina Green. The 9-year-old was born on 9/11 and featured in a book called “Faces of Hope.”
Her grandfather, Dallas Green, managed the Yankees for most of the 1989 season and the Mets from 1993 to 1996.
“She was born and she left us in very tragic moments in United States’ history here. Her life wasn’t all like that,” said her father John Green.
The massacre has also touched another local community. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ in-laws live in West Orange, N.J. Her husband, Mark Kelly, and his twin brother, Scott, are well known to the local EMS squad. The squad trained the brothers in first aid and CPR when they were teenagers.
In 1999, Scott took a West Orange EMS patch on a space mission to remember his hometown.
The woman who trained the brothers says while everyone is worred about them, no one imagined Mark’s wife would face danger.
“We have enough trouble here on earth, and they go up there, and here his wife is in Congress, and unfortunately she has the tragedy, we’re hoping its not a tragedy, we’re hoping she pulls through,” Ann Masullo of the West Orange Volunteer Rescue Squad said.
Giffords, 40, lay in intensive care at a Tucson hospital, after being shot in the head at close range. Doctors said she had responded repeatedly to commands to stick out her two fingers, giving them hope she may survive.
Neurosurgeon De. Michael LeMole of Tucson’s University Medical Center, appearing Monday on CBS’s “The Early Show,” said, “the best way to describe her this morning is that she’s holding her own.”
LeMole said he removed a portion of her skull in order to perform the surgery but likely will replace it at some point.
“We don’t close the book on recovery for years,” he said, “so it’ll take as long as it takes. I think the real question will be how long it will take before she’s out of the woods.”
Jared Loughner, 22, is charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. More charges are expected.
Court papers filed with the charges said Loughner had previous contact with Giffords. The documents said he had received a letter from the Democratic lawmaker in which she thanked him for attending a “Congress on your Corner” event at a mall in Tucson in 2007.
Giffords, a conservative Democrat re-elected in November, faced threats and heckling over her support for immigration reform and the health care overhaul. Her office was vandalized the day the House approved the landmark health care measure.
It was not clear whether those issues motivated the shooter to fire on the crowd gathered to meet Giffords.
While the motive for the masscre is not yet known, the deadly shooting this past weekend is focusing attention on the safety of the country’s elected officials.
“Everyone gets an occasional threat,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said. “Almost all of them occur from not politically motivated people, but frankly, people who are mentally unstable.”
New York’s City Council joined the nation in observing a moment of silence Monday for the victims of the Arizona shooting tragedy. President Barack Obama led the country in the solemn observation at 11 a.m. EST.
Afterward, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said the council is all too familiar with violence against lawmakers. In 2003, a councilman was fatally gunned down by a political rival during a meeting in City Hall.