Focusing first on the victims of last week’s shooting in Tucson, Ariz., President Obama delivered a speech Wednesday night to hundreds seeking comfort at a memorial service.
Applause resounded after each victim was eulogized and continued throughout his praise for the heroes who stopped the gunman – Jared Lee Loughner, 22 – and ministered to the wounded.
As he addressed some of the speculations surrounding the motive behind the attack, Obama challenged Americans "to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath."
“Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding,” Obama said. He cited Job 30:26 – “when I looked for light, then came darkness" – as he stated, “Bad things happen.”
“The truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack,” he said plainly. “What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.”
Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding her first “Congress on Your Corner” meeting of the year when Loughner opened fire outside a Safeway supermarket, leaving her with a bullet wound to the head.
“On Saturday morning, Gabby, her staff, and many of her constituents gathered outside a supermarket to exercise their right to peaceful assembly and free speech. They were fulfilling a central tenet of the democracy envisioned by our founders – representatives of the people answering to their constituents, so as to carry their concerns to our nation’s capital. Gabby called it ’Congress on Your Corner’ – just an updated version of government of and by and for the people,” Obama said.
Giffords is currently undergoing physical therapy and is recovering according to plan, without any complications. Her doctors say she is becoming more and more alert. The four others who were shot are in fair condition, while a sixth victim was scheduled to be released from the hospital Thursday.
Obama announced during his speech in Tucson, with permission from Giffords’ husband Mark, that “Gabby” opened her eyes for the first time since the shooting on Saturday.
“In Gabby we see a reflection of our public spiritedness, that desire to participate in that sometimes frustrating, sometimes contentious, but always necessary and never-ending process to form a more perfect union,” stated the president.
Challenging all Americans to live up to the expectations of those who passed, including Arizona’s Chief Federal Judge, John Roll, Obama urged for a “country forever worthy of” Christina’s – the youngest victim in the shooting – gentle, happy spirit.
“I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.”
Progressive Christian leader Jim Wallis of Sojourners praised Obama’s speech, saying it did exactly what it needed to – move America to a higher place.
“The president delivered a speech that was both presidential and pastoral,” said Wallis. “His speech was a call to the nation to move to a higher and better place – to build an America that is worthy of the people who were killed or wounded, or who acted heroically during the tragic shooting.”
And while there has been talk of “civility” on Capitol Hill in the wake of the shooting, Wallis noted that Obama took the discussion of the tragedy “beyond the debates about ‘civility,’ which have already become so politicized.”
Americans’ notions of civility can be weak at times, Wallis said. “We don't overcome oppression, division, hatred, and violence just by being nice and polite.
“Sometimes ‘civility’ is the best we can do; but ultimately, our violent differences, and even our more serious disagreements, are most effectively and deeply responded to with love.”
Tuscon resident Loughner is currently facing federal charges.
Among those deceased are Roll, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, Gabe Zimmerman, Christina Taylor Green.