CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — Seth Wilson of Eddyville first heard the news from Tucson, Ariz., on Jan. 8 through a message left on his telephone.
"I had a message on my machine that there was an emergency," said the 34-year-old Wilson, but it wasn't until later that he heard the horrifying details: His grandparents, Dorwin and Mavy Stoddard, former residents of Sweet Home, had been waiting in line outside a Safeway supermarket to meet U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords when a gunman opened fire.
Six people had been killed in the massacre, including Dorwin Stoddard, who threw his body over his wife's to shield her from the barrage of bullets. He died in Mavy's arms. She was among the 14 people wounded in the attack.
In an interview this week with the Gazette-Times, Wilson and his grandmother reflected on the events of that terrifying Saturday and how their family has been affected.
Dorwin and Mavy Stoddard were not out that morning to push for any particular political cause, but attended the "Congress on Your Corner" event simply to thank the congresswoman.
"We were just there to tell her we appreciated her for going out of her way to talk to people," Mavy Stoddard, 76, said. "We're not Democrats, but we figured she was doing it right."
What followed made headlines around the world.
Upon hearing gunshots, Dory threw Mavy to the ground and lay on top of her, shielding her body with his own. During a break in the shooting, Dory looked up. That's when he was shot in the head. He was 76.
"He died in my arms," Mavy Stoddard said. She explained that her husband lived for about 10 minutes, allowing her to tell him she loved him and to encourage him to breathe.
Mavy was shot three times in the legs — "five holes," she said, because one bullet lodged in her thigh — but was back on her feet within days.
"I have a lot of support," she said, rattling off the names of family, friends and neighbors who call her constantly to check in.
And although the couple wound up in the path of gunfire in Arizona, their story began in Oregon.
Mavy and Dory Stoddard are former residents of Sweet Home who dated in the sixth grade. The two went their separate ways, marrying other people and creating families. In 1995, however, fate intervened. The pair, both recently widowed, moved separately to Tucson and then met again.
"Dory just walked into my life. I wasn't looking for a husband," Mavy Stoddard said. "We just had a storybook marriage; it was a honeymoon for 15 years."
Although she admits to crying in private, she speaks about the shooting in a matter-of-fact way, likely the result of talking to so many reporters following the incident. It also comes from knowing that death is inevitable.
"Death is not a thing we didn't expect," Stoddard said, explaining that her husband suffered from heart problems. "We had talked about it."
From the experience, Mavy Stoddard developed a newfound purpose in life and hopes to spread a message of peace.
"I'm just trying to tell the kids to make the right decisions," she said. And she added that because her husband performed such a compassionate act toward her, she had no option but to spread his message.
Despite the trauma to his family, Wilson is taking the same attitude.
"The next morning I thought, 'Look at the place this guy has put me in. I have to decide if I'm going to hate him or not,'" he said.
His decision: He didn't hate Jared Loughner, the 22-year-old man arrested at the scene and accused of the shooting. Wilson decided, that he felt sorry for him.
"I wish he would have come into my store," Wilson said. Wilson lived in Tucson for eight years and worked as a manager for a Trader Joe's just two blocks from the Safeway where the attack took place. "I would have talked to him."
And he believes that more personal interactions between strangers could help to deter future tragedies.
"A smile," he said. "The day-to-day thing that costs the least but means the most is just a precious smile."
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.