Obama: Let’s not turn on each other
Jeff Mason and Tim Gaynor, Reuters
Tucson, Arizona - President Barack Obama mourned victims of the Arizona shooting spree on Wednesday and urged Americans not to let a political debate over the tragedy be used as "one more occasion to turn on one another".
In an emotional address to thousands of people who packed a Tucson memorial service, Obama said no one knew what prompted a gunman to go on a rampage that killed six people and critically wounded Representative Gabrielle Giffords.
He warned against seeking "simple explanations" and cautioned Americans not to place blame.
"None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped those shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind," Obama said.
9-year-old girl’s example
Jared Lee Loughner, 22, has been charged with firing at Giffords and others gathered in a Tucson shopping centre parking lot last Saturday where the 40-year-old Democrat was hosting a meet-and-greet for constituents. Among those killed were a federal judge and an aide of Giffords.
Obama, who as president has sometimes had difficulty making an emotional connection with Americans, faced the challenge of comforting Americans, helping the community heal and bringing people together.
He may have succeeded best by citing the example of 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, who was born on September 11 2001 the day of the US terror attacks. Interested in government, she attended the Giffords event where she was shot and killed.
"I want us to live up to her expectations," Obama said. "I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it."
The president leaped firmly into the political debate that broke out shortly after the gunfire ended last Saturday - whether harsh political rhetoric from last year's acrimonious congressional elections had anything to do with inspiring the gunman to shoot.
"What we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another," Obama said.
Eyes opened for the first time
Obama began his visit to Arizona by stopping at University Medical Centre to see Giffords, who survived a gunshot to the head that travelled the length of her brain on the left side. He also visited four other patients wounded in the attack.
Obama brought roars of approval from the estimated crowd of 14 000 people inside a University of Arizona arena by saying he had been told that, shortly after he and his wife, Michelle, saw her, Giffords opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting.
"Gabby opened her eyes," Obama said.
"So I can tell you she knows we are here, she knows we love her and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey."
University of Virginia political science professor Larry Sabato said Obama achieved his goal.
"He did exactly what he was supposed to do. He stayed out of partisan politics and kept the focus on the victims and the families," he said.