President Obama Calls for Unity After Tucson Shooting

President sees hopeful sign for congresswoman, nation.

ByGregory Simmons, Sunlen Miller, Jake Tapper and Dan Harris
January 13, 2011, 2:39 AM

Jan. 13, 2011— -- President Barack Obama delivered the news so many wanted to hear but may not have dared to hope for during a time when he said the nation's "discourse has become so sharply polarized."

"Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you: She knows we are here, she knows we love her and she knows we are rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey," Obama said in a speech delivered at a memorial honoring Tucson shooting victims and heroes Wednesday night.

Six people were killed and at least 13 were injured, including Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords, D-Ariz., in a mass shooting outside a Tucson supermarket on Saturday. She was shot in the head and is in critical condition.

Prior to the memorial service, Obama visited Giffords at the hospital.

The president had already left the hospital room, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., were in the room when Giffords opened her eyes.

Giffords opened her right eye (her left eye, damaged in the shooting, is bandaged.) for about a minute total and was able to raise her arm, Gillibrand told ABC News, adding that everyone in the room was crying.

"It was just the most amazing thing," said Wasserman Schultz in an interview this morning on "Good Morning America." "We hugged Mark and went right to Gabby, we were able to hold her hand. Kirsten was holding her hand and rubbing the top of her hand and we started talking to her about the experiences we had."

Wasserman Schultz said her family along with Giffords and her husband Mark would vacation at her house in New Hampshire for the last couple of summers.

"So I said to her, 'Gabby, come on I am expecting you back in New Hampshire this summer so you better get through this quick," said Wasserman Schultz. "All of a sudden at that point, she just started to open her eyes, just a slit and nobody could believe it."

"We were stunned. Mark got so excited, he said to her, 'Gabby if you can see me give me the thumbs up.' And she didn't right away, but he kept talking to her and kept encouraging her, the speaker was encouraging her, telling her how much her how much her colleagues missed her and then she opened a little more," said Wasserman Schultz. "She was struggling, you could see every ounce of determination in her face trying to get her eyes open and she did."

"We were telling her how proud we were of her and how she was inspiring a nation with her courage, her strength and she showed us that strength right there at that moment we were there," Gillibrand said. "Mark was urging her, you know, 'Can you see me, can you see me?' And she literally pulled her whole arm up as a thumbs up with her arm."

Afterwards, the doctor declared it to be a major step forward for Giffords.

"One of the doctors just said 'Wow, this is incredible progress,'" said Wasserman Schultz.

"It instantly showed her strength, her courage, her indomitable spirit — everything that we love about Gabby was all there at that moment. She will be up and walking in a few weeks, it's going to be something that we are all going to be a part of," Gillibrand said.

In light of the positive news about Giffords, the president urged the nation to move forward in unity and civility and believed "we can be better."

The president asked, "Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together. ... Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle."

You can read the president's full remarks HERE and click here for full ABC News coverage of the tragedy in Tucson.

Honoring Victims and Heroes

President Obama's speech was a part of a hour-long program that included music, moments of silence, prayers and other speeches held at McKale Memorial Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

A Native American blessing opened the program followed by a welcome speech from University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and two student speakers from the university.

The president honored each of the victims: Judge John Roll, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, Christina Taylor and Gabe Zimmerman, the only of Giffords' staff members to perish in the shooting.

The president also praised those who saved others -- the nurses, doctors, policemen, staffers and bystanders.

"They remind us that heroism does not require special training or physical strength. Heroism is here, all around us, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, just waiting to be summoned -- as it was on Saturday morning," the president said.

He also spoke about Christina Green, the third grader who was inspired by her early interest in politics to go visit her congresswoman only to get caught in the crossfire.

Her funeral is set for today.

Obama used Christina's example to make the case that America needs to tone down its sometimes venomous national discourse.

"Imagine: Here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future," the president said. "She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted."

Green was born on Sept. 11, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day featured in the book "Faces of Hope."

The president highlighted that within the book, on either side of Green's photo, were the words, "I hope you help those in need. I hope you know all of the words to the National Anthem and sing it with your hand over your heart. I hope you jump in rain puddles."

The president concluded: "If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today. And here on Earth, we place our hands over our hearts, and commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit."

Reaction to Obama's Speech

The president and first lady were greeted at the Tucson memorial by a standing ovation as they walked into the packed stadium.

"I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow," the president told the crowd.

Gifford's husband, space shuttle Capt. Mark Kelly, sat between the first lady and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

In a tone similar to President John F. Kennedy in his 1961 inauguration speech, Obama called upon the nation to respond with charity towards one another.

"We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of violence in the future," he said. "But what we can't do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on one another.

"As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility," he added. "Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together."

The outpouring of support in Tucson Wednesday night was evident as thousands waited in line, some sleeping on the ground overnight, to enter the McKale Memorial Center.

The university set up an area to handle the overflow of students and other attendees who camped out on the sidewalk.

Giffords' office issued a statement in response: "The outpouring of support from the people of Arizona and Americans across the country has been truly moving. We appreciate everyone's thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. The resolution before the House today was a further reflection of the best of America -- one after another, members came to the floor, without party labels, in support of those impacted by this tragedy. They honored the fallen, those recovering, and the heroes who responded quickly to save lives. ... Even during the darkest times, our nation's capacity for kindness and fellowship reminds us of the best in people. To everyone who has expressed well wishes, we offer our most heartfelt thanks."

ABC News' Michael S. James, Amanda VanAllen and Leezel Tanglao contributed to this report.

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