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‘Two steps forward’; UA community remembers the life of professor Meixner a year after campus shooting

People+offer+mental+health+services%2C+event+programs+and+electric+candles+outside+the+St.+Thomas+More+Catholic+Newman+Center+for+Thomas+Meixners+memorial+Thursday%2C+Oct.+5.+The+memorial+was+hosted+by+the+University+of+Arizona%2C+held+exactly+one+year+after+Meixners+death+on+campus.
Gracie Kayko
People offer mental health services, event programs and electric candles outside the St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center for Thomas Meixner’s memorial Thursday, Oct. 5. The memorial was hosted by the University of Arizona, held exactly one year after Meixner’s death on campus.

“The first step in the journey towards healing is realizing you’re not alone,” Christopher Castro said from the podium inside St. Thomas More Newman Catholic Center during the memorial service for University of Arizona professor Thomas Meixner, Thursday, Oct. 5.

Castro took over as the interim head of the school’s hydrology department after Meixner was shot and killed on campus last year. 

“Part of remembering Oct. 5 is also acknowledging the trauma we experienced. There were so many impacted by this event,” Castro said. “I [learned] processing trauma and grief is different and personal for everyone.”

Members of the community gathered inside the Newman Center for the non-denominational memorial service at noon, some holding battery powered candles to be switched on in Meixner’s memory. From 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., the public was invited to attend any part of the event and to sign a book of remembrance to be gifted to the Meixner family. 

The UA’s Office of Presidential Events & University Ceremonies partnered with the hydrology department to plan the memorial service, including a spotlight set up outside of the Gould-Simpson building for 24 hours. 

During his speech at the service, Castro said he worked with Meixner for several years as a colleague and the two became close friends, interacting almost daily in their respective roles in the hydrology department. He described Meixner as cheerful and speaking with a booming voice, always sporting colorful UA T-shirts. 

Castro said the most important dimension in Meixner’s life was his role as a devoted father to his two sons Sean and Brendan, and husband to his wife Kathleen Cotter Meixner. 

“We must reckon ourselves to the fact that [Meixner’s] was a beautiful life cut short in an act of horrific gun violence,” Castro said. He added that gun violence is a fact of daily life in the U.S. and people cannot be bystanders hoping for the best as similar tragedies continue to happen “year after year.” 

Castro said Meixner used his expertise to lead research on water from an intersection of hydrology and biogeochemistry standpoint, devotedly teach future generations of students in his field and work closely with other UA departments and colleges. 

“One of the last acts he performed was to teach a class,” Castro said. 

Meixner received his doctorate in hydrology and water resources at the University of Arizona in 1999 and returned to the UA later on, where he was department head for Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences according to his obituary

Castro said his journey with grief after the shooting has been difficult, especially the first few months. Bouts of crying suddenly, an acute struggle with survivor’s guilt, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and feeling unlike himself as a teacher were all realities that earmarked the time after Meixner’s death. 

He said that healing from the pain and tragedy was still an ongoing grieving process that felt like moving two steps forward, one step back. He said bad days are pinpointed by colleagues and friends crying in his office behind closed doors — but in light of it all, the hydrology department has carried on. 

The University of Arizona hosts a memorial for professor Thomas Meixner on Oct. 5, at St. Thomas More Catholic Newman Center. The memorial honored the first anniversary of Meixner’s death in 2022. (Gracie Kayko)

Castro encouraged anyone in attendance to reach out for mental and psychological support if they were struggling and to not be ashamed of asking for help. 

Outside the doors to the sanctuary, staff from UA Campus Health and UA Counseling and Psych Services were present and prepared to offer mental health support to anyone impacted by the event. CAPS offered at its table pamphlets about resources available to the community and tiny bottles of bubbles with caps labeled “mental health matters” in bold letters. 

Castro closed his speech by sharing the importance of continuing Meixner’s work and answering questions about where the Southwest will obtain its water and existing in more extreme climates. He shared an anecdote about the hydrology department welcome event at the Chinese Cultural Center last month. He described it as a good day, one that embraced community and where smiles were shared. 

“In the past year resilience has taken on a completely new meaning,” Castro said. “Two steps forward.”


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