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Obama Stresses Unity At Tucson Memorial

Susan Shimotsu |
January 12, 2011 | 5:50 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

(Creative Commons)
(Creative Commons)

President Barack Obama offered words of comfort to the community of Tucson, Ariz., Wednesday at a public memorial held for the victims of a shooting that left six dead and U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in intensive care.

“I've come here tonight as an American, kneel to pray with you today and will stand by you tomorrow," Obama said. “There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole in your hearts.”

Obama’s speech was the headliner of the “Together We Thrive: Tucson and America” memorial service at McKale Memorial Center on the campus of the University of Arizona. Early estimates predicted a full capacity of about 14,000 in attendance. 

The president touched down in Tucson earlier Wednesday and immediately made a visit to the seven injured victims at a local hospital. Giffords, who was shot in the head Saturday, has been recovering at University Medical Center.

Obama announced at the memorial that Giffords opened her eyes for the first time shortly after he left.

“Gabby opened her eyes so I can tell you she knows we are here and she knows we love her," he said, followed by thunderous applause.

The approximately 90-minute-long memorial honored the six people fatally shot at a “Congress in Your Corner” event hosted by Giffords in front of a Tucson grocery store. Among the victims were 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green and Federal Judge John Roll. Twenty-two-year-old Jared Lee Loughner was arrested at the scene and is currently facing two counts of murder and three other federal charges.

Obama touched briefly on each victim during his speech, describing how they ended up at the supermarket and how they heroically spent their last minutes. He also recognized the doctors, first responders and everyone else who helped subdue Loughner. 

"These men and women remind us heroism is not only found on the fields of battle," Obama said. "it doesn’t require training or physical strength. It’s all around us, waiting to be summoned. Their actions, their selflessness pose a challenge to each of us."

Despite speculation that the speech would include political undertones, Obama stressed coming together as Americans.

"At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame of all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, we need to make sure we talk to each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds," he said. "But what we cannot do, is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other."

Giffords’ intern and University of Arizona student Daniel Hernandez, Jr., was among the speakers at “Together We Thrive” and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer also spoke briefly on each victim.

Although Hernandez respectfully declined the title of hero, the president reiterated he was well-deserving.
Obama concluded with the story of Christina Taylor Green, and hoped that Americans would take her short life as a reminder that "we need to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."
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