I was transfixed as former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords appealed to her former colleagues last week in Washington.
In just 72 words, Giffords weighed in on gun control. The famous survivor of gun violence is partially paralyzed. She is partially blind. Her speech was halting, and heartbreaking.
"You must act," she said. "Be bold. Be courageous."
As Giffords spoke, I remembered the gruesome scene in Tucson two years ago, in which a point-blank bullet to the head had left her critically injured. Eighteen others were shot that day; six died.
Within hours after Giffords spoke, a new Arizona shooting made the national news. An attorney and his client had been gunned down in Phoenix. One was dead, another on life support. A third person had been shot in the hand. The shooter had disappeared after firing at, but missing, a fourth person.
I cringed at this grim conjunction to the Giffords testimony in Washington.
Beyond that reaction, I sought out no further details. That is, apparently, how commonplace mass shootings have become.
The next day I stumbled on the name of the fallen lawyer, Mark Hummels, a name that gave me pause.
Nearly 20 years ago, I knew a Mark Hummels. He was an unassuming, bright, talented and quirky Colorado College graduate. He arrived at the door of the fledgling Colorado Springs Independent. He wanted to write. He wanted to make a difference.
I stared at the photograph of the clean-cut lawyer struck down by a bullet last week and thought, surely this could not be the same Mark Hummels, a scruffy young guy who sometimes slept in the darkroom. It couldn't be the young arts and entertainment reporter whose long-ago interview with Fabio, the romance-novel sex god, was just about the funniest thing I've ever read.
Turns out it was our Mark Hummels.
It was, and it is. After he left the Indy, Hummels went off to the University of California, Berkeley, and earned a master's degree in journalism. He covered serious topics — like cops and government — at the Santa Fe New Mexican. I lost track of him around the time he headed off to Arizona in 2001, to trade in his press pass for the bar. His beautiful partner, Dana, was with him all the way.
It turns out that Hummels proved to be as idealistic, as brilliant and as effective an attorney as he had been a journalist. The day he was shot, his law firm issued a statement describing the rising star. He was on life support. He died the next night.
"Mark Hummels was the best kind of lawyer — a man who was highly capable in his practice and caring to his core about his community ... Above all, Mark was the most decent of men. An adoring husband, dedicated father and true friend, Mark was what all of us aspire to be on our best days."
He was an organ donor. He leaves behind Dana, a 9-year-old daughter, and 7-year-old son.
The man who killed him was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The dispute involved $17,000 worth of office cubicles.
After the shooting, former friends and colleagues from all of those paths that Hummels walked in his 43 years emerged, in blogs and on social media. They wrote about his enthusiasm, his quirkiness, his sweetness and his fierce intellect. Old-timers from the Independent reconnected, shattered by the news.
In an essay posted by the Tucson Weekly, Roger E. Hartley, a political science professor, reflected on the life and death of Hummels, whom he'd befriended in 2001. How Hummels had graduated No. 1 in his law class. How he rode a unicycle, sometimes while juggling.
"After learning of the shooting ... and that Mark was hit, I started thinking, amazingly at all the people I have talked to in my life that had been victims of gun violence," wrote Hartley.
Hartley counted the people he's known personally who have been touched by a bullet. He got to nine. The number grew to 12 after he asked his friends on Facebook to weigh in.
He urged others to share their own numbers, the people they knew who have been victims of gun violence — whether by murder, suicide or accident. Let's talk about this, he said, without politics or judgment. "If guns and gun violence are in the fabric of our nation, then I would suggest strongly that it IS something that we can talk about."
With the tragic death of Mark Hummels, my number is five.
Cara DeGette helped found the Colorado Springs Independent in 1993, and is a former longtime editor of the paper. Her most recent project, detailing the history and environmental injustices of Denver's historic Globeville neighborhood, can be read at coloradopublicnews.org.