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TUCSON, Ariz. — One day after mourning a bubbly 9-year-old slain during the attempted assassination of a congresswoman, residents and fellow jurists gathered Friday at the same Tucson church to remember a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge John Roll, who served nearly 40 years, had stopped by a supermarket meet-and-greet for Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday when he was shot and killed, along with five others. Thirteen were wounded, including Giffords, who was shot in the head.
Security was tight Friday morning as the hearse entered the church parking lot and U.S. marshals checked the IDs of everyone entering the lot. Four big coach buses brought dozens of judges who knew Roll over the years.
Dignitaries including former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl, and former Vice President Dan Quayle will attend, said Adam Goldberg, a spokesman for the fire department and the event. Quayle will present a handwritten message from former President George H.W. Bush, who appointed Roll to the bench in 1991, Goldberg said.
The security stood in contrast to another funeral at the same church the day before for the youngest shooting victim, Christina Taylor Green.
Most of the nation had never heard of Green before the tragedy Saturday, but Roll, 63, had attracted death threats and become a lightning rod in the state’s immigration debate after his ruling in a controversial border-crossing case two years ago.
For the dark-haired third-grader’s funeral, 2,000 mourners packed the church and hundreds more — including dozens of children — lined both sides of the street outside for more than a quarter-mile to show their support. Hundreds of motorcycle riders from all over stood guard. More than a dozen residents were dressed as angels and some mourners dressed in white placed candles alongside the road leading to the church.
On Friday, an hour before Roll’s funeral was to begin, cars lined up for nearly a mile, waiting to enter church grounds, but the streets around the church were mostly empty except for media, about a dozen mourners outside the church and a strong showing of patrol cars and SWAT officers in all-green uniforms.
Tucson resident Mary Kool, 58, came to both funerals, wearing white Friday and carrying a red rose.
“I feel like it’s important to support all the families and let them know Tucson cares,” she said. “We are so devastated. We need to get together somehow and stop the violence.”
Before her service, Christina’s family and closest friends gathered under the enormous American flag recovered from Ground Zero and paused for a moment of silence, holding hands and crying.
“Her time to be born was Sept. 11, 2001,” said Bishop Gerald Kicanas. “Her time to die was the tragic day, Jan. 8, 2011, just nine years old she was. But she has found her dwelling place in God’s mansion. She went home.”
The flag was no longer hanging over the church Friday.
Roll, 63, was heralded as a stern but fair-minded judge on the bench, and as a fun, family-loving man outside court. The father of three was Catholic and attended daily Mass. He had just come from a service when he stopped by the local Safeway to see Giffords, by some accounts to thank her for her support in addressing the issue of a federal judge and court shortage in Arizona.
Roll died on a Saturday full of mundane errands, but he was no stranger to death threats and controversy during his years on the federal bench.
Two years ago, Roll presided over the case of 16 illegal immigrants who had sued border rancher Roger Barnett, saying he threatened them at gunpoint, kicked them and harassed them with dogs. Barnett argued that the plaintiffs couldn’t sue him because they were in the U.S. illegally, but Roll upheld the civil rights claim and allowed a jury to hear the case.
The panel eventually awarded the illegal immigrants just $73,000 — much less than the millions sought — but the case was a flash point in a state that struggles to curb crossings at its border.
Roll received death threats was under around-the-clock protection while hearing the case.
“It was unnerving and invasive ... by its nature it has to be,” Roll told the Arizona Republic in a mid-2009 interview.
He said he followed the advice of the Marshals Service to not press charges against four men identified as threatening him.
Roll also had taken a leading position in pressing for more courts and judges to deal with the dramatic increase in federal cases caused by illegal immigration. A week before his death, he declared a judicial emergency in southern Arizona as the number of federal felony cases more than doubled, from 1,564 to 3,289, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He asked the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency declaration extending the time to bring felony defendants into court from 70 days to 180 days, the paper reported.
Roll previously served as a state trial judge and as a judge on the midlevel Arizona Court of appeals. He also worked as a county and state prosecutor.
Roll was a Pennsylvania native who got his law degree from the University of Virginia. He is survived by his wife, Maureen, three sons, and five grandchildren.
While Roll attracted the vitriol of some, he was loved and respected by his colleagues — and by those attorneys who appeared before him, whether they prevailed or not.
“He was famous for being able to say so many genuinely nice things about people without having to consult notes, for he so genuinely loved people and had such a remarkable mind,” said 9th Circuit Judge Mary M. Schroeder of Phoenix, a former chief judge of the circuit.
“Judge Roll will be greatly missed and will continue to provide inspiration for the generations of lawyers and judges who were fortunate enough to know him.”