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January 14, 2011

Tucson Tragedy Hits Home for Lumberjack Sophomore

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Sophomore basketball player Austin Smith lived and graduated high school not more than five minutes from the site of the terrible shooting tragedy in Tucson last weekend. It is an event that has had global reach with personal impact near and far and the Tucson native is no exception.

"It is something that you can't believe that is happening because it is so close to home," said Smith, who attended Mountain View and Ironwood Ridge High Schools. "You hear about it happening in other areas, but especially not in the Oro Valley section of Tucson. Nothing ever happens on that side of town. It is so rare. It really struck me really hard because it is not heard of in Oro Valley."

Smith was preparing for Northern Arizona's game that night against Weber State when he heard the news. With his parents safe in Flagstaff to attend his game, his first call went to his cousin, Kyle Petty.

"I was nervous because I really had no idea if there was anyone that I knew that was involved," said Smith, who has shopped at the Safeway and frequented a former Blockbuster in shopping center. "I did not realize the extent of the event. I had got a text saying Gabrielle Giffords had been shot. I thought it was just her at first. Once I knew more about it, I got more worried. It was very nerve-wracking."

As the events unfolded, Smith found out he had connections to people who were both in the Safeway and driving nearby. He also attended elementary, middle and high school with the alleged shooter but did not know him personally. Smith is a year younger.

"It is crazy that he did this and I went to school with him my entire life," said Smith.

Smith will turn his attention back the basketball court Saturday with a Lumberjack game against Sacramento State. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:35 p.m. at the Rolle Activity Center.