U.S. President Barack Obama has paid tribute to the six victims of last Saturday’s shooting rampage in the southwestern state of Arizona, telling an audience that they represented “what is best in America.”
Mr. Obama addressed thousands gathered at a memorial service Wednesday evening at the University of Arizona in Tucson. His remarks focused largely on the six people killed in the rampage, including a nine-year-old girl. Arizona Congresswoman Gabriella Giffords was critically wounded in the shooting as she addressed constituents outside a grocery store.
The president said “our hearts are broken by their sudden passing.” At the same time, he said Americans have reason for hope for the 13 survivors of the shooting. And he singled out the men and women who sought to stop the shooter and save the fallen, describing them as everyday heroes and heroines.
Mr. Obama urged all Americans not to use the tragedy as one more occasion to “turn on one another.” Instead, he said, let us “listen to each other more carefully.”
Earlier, the president visited with Congresswoman Giffords, who is recovering at a hospital after being shot in the head. A hospital spokesman said Wednesday her recovery is going “as anticipated” and that she is becoming more responsive.
The president, who arrived with his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, and lawmakers from Arizona, also met with other family members of victims of the attack. A federal judge and one of Giffords’ aides were among the dead.
Members of the House of Representatives also paid tribute Wednesday to their colleague and the other victims of the attack. House Speaker John Boehner submitted a resolution condemning the attack, honoring those killed, and expressing hope for Giffords’ recovery.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it is especially tragic that the shooting took place as people participated in an activity that she said “reflects the best of our democratic tradition.”
Twenty-two-year-old Jared Loughner is accused of carrying out the attack.
Loughner is charged with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee.
If convicted he could get life in prison or the death penalty.
It was the first deadly attack against a U.S. member of Congress since 1978, when California Representative Leo Ryan was killed in Guyana, while visiting the compound of a U.S.-based cult known as Jonestown.
Loughner’s family released a statement Tuesday expressing deep remorse for the shooting, saying they cannot understand why it happened.
Investigators found handwritten notes at Loughner’s home with Giffords’ name, the words “I planned ahead” and “My assassination.” Some of the writings were scrawled on a letter Giffords’ office sent to the suspect in 2007 after he attended one of her political events.