Image: President Obama, astronaut Mark Kelly
Kevork Djansezian / Pool  /  EPA
President Barack Obama hugs NASA astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, before the memorial service in Tucson on Wednesday night.
NBC, msnbc.com and news services
updated 1/12/2011 11:32:53 PM ET 2011-01-13T04:32:53

In an appeal for national unity and soul-searching after the Tucson shootings, President Barack Obama on Wednesday night urged Americans to "expand our moral imaginations" and "sharpen our instincts for empathy" — even with those who are political adversaries.

"What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other," he declared in a speech that was frequently interrupted by applause and cheers from the audience.

He spoke at at a memorial service for those killed in a weekend massacre that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., gravely wounded. The shooting also killed six people and wounded 13.

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In an electrifying moment, Obama revealed that Giffords, who was shot in the head, had opened her eyes for the first time. Obama and first lady Michelle Obama had visited the wounded lawmaker in her room, and he said that shortly after they left: "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 ...."

Mark Kelly, Giffords' husband, sat beside the Obamas during the ceremony.

Using the shootings to address the nation's spiritual state, the president decried the small-minded nature of political debate. "If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle."

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," Obama said, the killings should make Americans ask themselves "Have we shown enough kindness and generosity and compassion to people in our lives?"

He referred to the people killed on Saturday as members of "an American family, 300 million strong."  And he added, "Let’s make sure it's worthy of those we have lost," he said.

Image: Rep. Gabrielle Giffords
Ho  /  AFP - Getty Images
Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

'They help me believe'
"Those who died here, those who saved lives here — they help me believe," Obama told the crowd. "We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us."

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

In contrast with his speech at a memorial service after Nidal Hasan's killing spree at Fort Hood, Texas in 2009, Obama did not mention the suspect in this case, Jared Lee Loughner.

He did refer to the Tucson gunman by saying, "None of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind."

"For what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice — in this world, and the next," Obama said in his Fort Hood speech.

Video: Obama: Gifford opened her eyes for the first time (on this page)

Police say Loughner shot Giffords and many in the line of people waiting to talk with her during a constituent event outside a Safeway store on Saturday. The attack ended when bystanders tackled the gunman. Loughner is in jail facing federal charges.

In her remarks earlier in the memorial service, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer thanked Obama for coming to Arizona. “Your words have been a source of comfort and strength to every Arizonan. Your presence today serves as a reminder that we are not alone in our sorrow.”

“This state, bound together by prayer and action and hope and faith, will not be shredded by one madman’s act of darkness,” she said.

Story: Obama: 'Heroism is here'

She quoted St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, saying that the people of Arizona would remain “rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation.”

Obama eulogizes each person killed
Obama's speech, by turns somber and hopeful, at times took on the tone of an exuberant pep rally as he heralded the men who wrestled the gunman to the ground, the woman who grabbed the shooter's ammunition, the doctors and nurses who treated the injured, the intern who rushed to Giffords' aid. The crowd erupted in multiple standing ovations as each was singled out for praise. The president ended up speaking for more than half an hour, doubling the expected length of his comments.

He eulogized each of the people who were killed: federal Judge John Roll; Dorothy Morris, whose husband, George, was wounded; Phyllis Schneck; Dorwan Stoddard, who died shielding his wife, Mavy, from the gunfire; Gabe Zimmerman, Gifford's outreach director; and, finally, 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green.

Video: Obama calls for unity in Tucson (on this page)

Obama said that Christina "showed an appreciation for life uncommon for a girl her age, and would remind her mother, "We are so blessed. We have the best life." And she'd pay those blessings back by participating in a charity that helped children who were less fortunate."

Christina had just been elected to the student council at her elementary school and had an emerging interest in public service.

"I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it," Obama said. The little girl was born on Sept. 11, 2001, and had been featured in a book about 50 babies born that day. The inscriptions near her photo spoke of wishes for a happy child's life, including splashing in puddles.

Said Obama: "If there are rain puddles in heaven, Christina is jumping in them today."

Video: Obama's full speech: 'Listen to each other more carefully' (on this page)

An estimated 13,000 people crowded into the basketball arena at the McKale Memorial Center for the ceremony, hugging and consoling each other before it began. People cheered when survivors or families of the victims arrived. Another 13,000 who could not be accommodated inside instead watched the service on television at Arizona Stadium.

Among the people attending the ceremony were Sens. John McCain and Jon Kyl of Arizona, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and other local and national figures.

Story: Arizona shooting victims

Daniel Hernandez, a 20-year-old intern on Giffords' staff, was honored as a hero for his actions after the attack credited with possibly saving Giffords' life. Hernandez rejected the hero tag, instead recognizing emergency workers who rushed to help victims.

Afterward, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, former governor of Arizona, and Attorney General Eric Holder read from the Bible.

A bipartisan delegation of lawmakers, including Rep. Ben Quayle, R-Ariz., accompanied Obama on Air Force One in a sign of solidarity. Quayle had called Obama the "worst president in history."

Upon his arrival in Arizona, Obama headed straight to Rep. Giffords' bedside.

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Inside the intensive care unit at the hospital, Obama spent about 10 minutes with Giffords and her husband. He also met with four other victims wounded in the shooting, including two of Giffords' staff members. The president and the first lady also met with members of the trauma resuscitation team who were the first people to treat the victims.

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Dr. Peter Rhee, chief of the trauma unit, led the Obamas' 45-minute visit to the hospital.

On Capitol Hill earlier in the day, Giffords' House colleagues praised her and the other shooting victims and insisted that violence would not silence democracy.

"We will have the last word," declared new House Speaker John Boehner, fighting back tears as he described Giffords' battle to recover.

Msnbc.com writers Tom Curry and Jeff Black and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Video: Obama: Gifford opened her eyes for the first time

Photos: Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona

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  1. A hearse carrying the remains of U.S. District Judge John Roll arrives at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church before his funeral on in Tucson, Ariz., Friday, Jan. 14. Roll was killed in the Jan. 8 shooting that left six dead and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. (Morry Gash / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mary Kool holds a single red rose outside the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral of U.S. District Judge John Roll was to take place. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Mourners arrive at the funeral service of Judge Roll. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A flag recovered from ground zero is raised during funeral service for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green at the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson, on Thursday, Jan. 13. Green was the youngest victim of the shooting rampage. Green was born on Sept. 11, 2001. (Mamta Popat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Left to right, Roxanna and John Green, mother and father of Christina Taylor Green, and their son Dallas Green, arrive at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church for her funeral in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 2,000 mourners were in attendance at the funeral of Christina Taylor Green on Thursday in Tucson. (Mamta Popat  / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. People dressed as angels line the street leading to the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church where the funeral for Christina Taylor Green was to take place in Tucson on Thursday. Hundreds, dressed in white, lined the streets for more than a quarter mile of the funeral procession. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. John Green kisses his son Dallas on the head as the family follows the casket of Christina Taylor Green at her funeral mass in Tucson, on Thursday. At left is Christina's mother Roxanna and at right is Camden Grant, Christina's godmother's son. (Rick Wilking / Pool via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A young mourner carries flowers and a teddy bear to the funeral of Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Mamta Popat / Pool via EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cindy and John McCain listen during the funeral service for shooting victim Christina Taylor Green in Tucson on Thursday. (Greg Bryan / Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A woman holds the service program from the funeral for 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green outside St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Tucson on Thursday. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. President Barack Obama speaks at the University of Arizona's McKale Memorial Center during the memorial service for victims of the shootings in Tucson. Obama told the crowd on Wednesday, Jan. 12, that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot in the head during the attack on Jan. 8. Six people were killed and 13 wounded by the lone gunman. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Daniel Hernandez , the 20-year-old intern credited with likely saving the life of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, hugs her husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as U.S. first lady Michelle Obama applauds. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. First lady Michelle Obama holds the hand of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's husband, NASA shuttle commander Mark Kelly, as they listen to President Barack Obama speak. (Jim Young / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. People sing the national anthem during the memorial service on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama at the start of the memorial event. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. People line up at the University of Arizona campus for the memorial service. (David Becker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Barb Tuttle is overcome with emotion at a makeshift memorial outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Jan. 12 in Tucson. (Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Women waiting in line for the memorial service look at the campus paper at the University of Arizona. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Mark Kelly, husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, holds his wife's hand in the congresswoman's hospital room at University Medical Center on Jan. 9. (Offiice Of Gabrielle Giffords / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Ron Barber, 65, district director for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is visited by Giffords aide Daniel Hernandez in his hospital room on Jan. 9. Hernandez rushed to Gifford's aid after she was shot. Hernandez said that while he held the wounded Giffords, he asked another bystander to put pressure on Barber's wounds. He also asked Barber for his wife's phone number and then shouted it out to someone so that Barber's wife, Nancy, could be informed of the shooting. (Gabrielle Giffords' Office / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama observe a moment of silence with White House staff members on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Jan. 10. (Jewel Samad / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Congressional staff observe a moment of silence to honor victims of the assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on the steps of the Capitol in Washington. (Michael Reynolds / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Rachel Cooper-Blackmore, 9, adds a note to a memorial at Mesa Verde Elementary School in Tucson, on Jan. 10. Christina Taylor Green, 9, was killed during the Tucson attack. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Rachel Crabb, 5, holds hands with teachers, parents and other students during a moment of silence for her slain schoolmate, Christina Taylor Green, at Mesa Verde Elementary School on Jan. 9. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Candles are lit on Sunday at a makeshift memorial outside University Medical Center in Tuscon, Ariz., for those killed or wounded during the attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords . (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Ellie Steve, 6, from left, Lucia Reeves, 6, and Zoe Reeves, 18, gather for a candlelight vigil outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., on Sunday. (Chris Carlson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Six balloons representing the six people killed in Saturday's shooting spree, as part of a prayer vigil.Rep. Gabrielle Giffords battled for her life on Sunday after an assailant shot her in the head and killed six others in a rampage that has launched a debate about extreme political rhetoric in America. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. People console each other at a makeshift memorial located outside the University Medical Center on Jan. 9 in Tucson, Ariz. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. The American flag flies at half-staff on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Jan. 9. In a brief statement Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner said flags on the House side of the Capitol in Washington will be flown at half-staff to honor the slain aide, Gabe Zimmerman, of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Thirty-year-old Zimmerman was among six killed Saturday. (Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. The congregation prays for the victims of Saturday's shooting in Tuscon, at the Pantano Christian Church in East Tucson, Jan. 9. (Rick Wilking / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Monty Edmonds, 36, left, of Tucson; Maggie Kipling, 34, of Tucson; Leigh Harris, 50, of Phoenix; Bella Furr, 21, of Tucson; and Sarah Herrmann, 22, of Tucson participate in a vigil at University Medical Center for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot during an event in front of a Safeway grocery store Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Laura Segall / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Emergency personnel use a stretcher to move Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head outside a shopping center in Tucson on Saturday. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. Ernie Freuler fights back tears as Ray Lilley takes photos of the scene outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in the head by a gunman who opened fire outside a grocery store, Saturday, Jan. 8, in Tucson, Ariz. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. A law enforcement officer stands outside the home of Jared L. Loughner, identified by federal officials as the suspect arrested in connection with the shooting of U.S Representative Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Ariz., Jan. 8. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. People gather for a candlelight vigil for the victims of the shooting in Arizona at the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Saturday Jan. 8. (Jose Luis Magana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Vera Rapcsak and others hold signs outside the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Saturday after she was shot while meeting constituents. (Chris Morrison / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Emergency personnel attend to a shooting victim outside a shopping center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, Jan. 8, where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot as the congresswoman was meeting with constituents. Rep. Giffords, 40, a Democrat, took office in January 2007, emphasizing issues such as immigration reform, embryonic stem-cell research, alternative energy sources and a higher minimum wage. The gunman shot Giffords in the head, seriously wounding her, and killed six other people in a shooting rampage at a public meeting in Tucson on Saturday. Giffords was airlifted to a hospital in Tucson where she underwent surgery. One of the doctors who treated her said he was optimistic about her recovery. (James Palka / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. A woman places flowers by the office of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on Capitol Hill in Washington on Saturday after she was shot in Tucson by a gunman who opened fire, killing six people, including a U.S. district judge, John M. Roll. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. In this photo provided by The White House, President Barack Obama talks with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer about the shooting. (Pete Souza / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Emergency personnel at the scene where Giffords and others were shot outside a Safeway grocery store in Tucson on Saturday. (Matt York / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Law enforcement personnel work the crime scene on Saturday. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. A medical helicopter evacuates victims from the shooting scene. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Morry Gash / AP
    Above: Slideshow (45) Mourning follows deadly shooting in Arizona
  2. Image: US Senate holds hearing on Gun Control
    Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA
    Slideshow (26) Former Ariz. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

Gallery: Tragedy in Tucson: The shooting victims

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