President Speaks To A Nation In Mourning

We hear moments from the memorial service for the victims of Saturday's deadly shooting in Arizona.

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BARACK OBAMA: Gratitude for all the...

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

President Obama is just now reaching the end portion of his remarks at a memorial service honoring the victims of Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

The University of Arizona's basketball arena, McKale Memorial Center, was filled to capacity with friends, family members, members of Congress and thousands of strangers who gathered to honor the six people who lost their lives.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the target of Saturday's attack, remains - I'm sorry - remains hospitalized in critical condition, along with four others.

Before attending this evening's memorial, the president and first lady visited the wounded at University Medical Center and met with their families.

T: Tucson and America," began on a traditional note with Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FANFARE FOR THE COMMON MAN")

NORRIS: After a Native American blessing, the president of the University of Arizona, Robert Shelton, pointed out the young man seated in the front row between President Obama and retired Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor.

OBAMA: Among the many heroes this week was one of our students: Daniel Hernandez Jr.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

NORRIS: Hernandez is the intern who rushed to Congresswoman Giffords' side and applied pressure to her wound. Many credit him with saving her life. After receiving a standing ovation, Hernandez himself spoke.

OBAMA: Although I appreciate the sentiment, I must humbly reject the use of the word hero because I am not one. The people that are the heroes are people like Pam Simon...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: ...Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Gabe Zimmerman - who unfortunately we lost that day - Ron Barber, the first responders, and also people like Dr. Rhee who have done an amazing job at making sure that Gabby is OK and those who were injured are being treated to the best of our ability.

NORRIS: Arizona's governor, Jan Brewer, delivered remembrances of the victims; Judge John Roll, Gabe Zimmerman, Dorothy Morris, Dorwin Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck and 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Greene.

G: We can never know what Christina might have become. We can't imagine what the families of our six innocent neighbors are feeling. Nor can we know the pain of the wounded, some whom are still struggling for their lives.

NORRIS: After biblical readings from former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric Holder, a solemn President Obama took to the podium with words he said to have labored over all night long.

P: There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts. But know this: The hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy will pull through.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

P: Scripture tells us, there's a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the most high dwells. God is within her. She will not fall. God will help her at break of day.

NORRIS: One of the most rousing moments of that speech in the crowded arena came when President Obama revealed something he had been told happened just after his visit to Congresswoman Giffords.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

P: Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you she knows we are here. She knows we love her. And she knows that we are rooting for her to what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. We are there for her.

NORRIS: Full and sustained applause at that moment. President Obama went on to honor Saturday's heroes: Daniel Hernandez, the intern we mentioned before, the men who tackled Jared Loughner, the alleged gunman, as he stopped to reload, and a remarkable senior citizen the president described as petite.

P: Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer's ammunition and undoubtedly saved some lives.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

NORRIS: President Obama also used the occasion to address some of the discourse that has unfolded over the week.

P: When a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations, to try to impose some order on the chaos and make sense out of that which seems senseless. Already, we've seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health system.

And much of this process of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government. But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized, at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do, it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.

NORRIS: And President Obama made this appeal.

P: What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

NORRIS: President...

P: That we cannot do.

NORRIS: President Obama there, speaking tonight at a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona.

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