Transcript: President Obama addresses Arizona shooting memorial
January 12th, 2011
09:20 PM ET

Transcript: President Obama addresses Arizona shooting memorial

President Barack Obama spoke before an audience of more than 14,000 people Wednesday night at the University of Arizona in Tucson for a memorial event honoring the victims of the Saturday attack that killed six and left a congresswoman fighting for her life:

To the families of those we’ve lost; to all who called them friends; to the students of this university, the public servants gathered tonight, and the people of Tucson and Arizona: I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow.

There is nothing I can say that will fill the sudden hole torn in your hearts.  But know this: the hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen.  We join you in your grief.  And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy pull through.

As Scripture tells us:

'There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.'

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.

That is the quintessentially American scene that was shattered by a gunman’s bullets.  And the six people who lost their lives on Saturday – they too represented what is best in America.

Judge John Roll served our legal system for nearly 40 years.  A graduate of this university and its law school, Judge Roll was recommended for the federal bench by John McCain twenty years ago, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and rose to become Arizona’s chief federal judge.  His colleagues described him as the hardest-working judge within the Ninth Circuit.  He was on his way back from attending Mass, as he did every day, when he decided to stop by and say hi to his Representative.  John is survived by his loving wife, Maureen, his three sons, and his five grandchildren.

George and Dorothy Morris - “Dot” to her friends - were high school sweethearts who got married and had two daughters.  They did everything together, traveling the open road in their RV, enjoying what their friends called a 50-year honeymoon.  Saturday morning, they went by the Safeway to hear what their Congresswoman had to say.  When gunfire rang out, George, a former Marine, instinctively tried to shield his wife.  Both were shot.  Dot passed away.

A New Jersey native, Phyllis Schneck retired to Tucson to beat the snow. But in the summer, she would return East, where her world revolved around her 3 children, 7 grandchildren, and 2 year-old great-granddaughter.  A gifted quilter, she’d often work under her favorite tree, or sometimes sew aprons with the logos of the Jets and the Giants to give out at the church where she volunteered.  A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.

Dorwan and Mavy Stoddard grew up in Tucson together – about seventy years ago. They moved apart and started their own respective families, but after both were widowed they found their way back here, to, as one of Mavy’s daughters put it, “be boyfriend and girlfriend again.” When they weren’t out on the road in their motor home, you could find them just up the road, helping folks in need at the Mountain Avenue Church of Christ.  A retired construction worker, Dorwan spent his spare time fixing up the church along with their dog, Tux.  His final act of selflessness was to dive on top of his wife, sacrificing his life for hers.

Everything Gabe Zimmerman did, he did with passion - but his true passion was helping people.  As Gabby’s outreach director, he made the cares of thousands of her constituents his own, seeing to it that seniors got the Medicare benefits they had earned, that veterans got the medals and care they deserved, that government was working for ordinary folks.  He died doing what he loved – talking with people and seeing how he could help.  Gabe is survived by his parents, Ross and Emily, his brother, Ben, and his fiancée, Kelly, who he planned to marry next year.

And then there is nine year-old Christina Taylor Green.  Christina was an A-student, a dancer, a gymnast, and a swimmer.  She often proclaimed that she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues, and as the only girl on her Little League team, no one put it past her.  She 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.

Our hearts are broken by their sudden passing.  Our hearts are broken – and yet, our hearts also have reason for fullness.

Our hearts are full of hope and thanks for the 13 Americans who survived the shooting, including the congresswoman many of them went to see on Saturday.  I have just come from the University Medical Center, just a mile from here, where our friend Gabby courageously fights to recover even as we speak.  And I want to tell you, her husband Mark is here, and he allows me to share this with you. Right after we went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues from Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. [Applause] Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. [Applause] Gabby opened her eyes for the first time. Gabby opened her eyes. So I can tell you she knows we are here. She knows we love her and she knows that we will be rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey. We are there for her.

Our hearts are full of gratitude for those who saved others. We are grateful to Daniel Hernandez, a volunteer in Gabby’s office who ran through the chaos to minister to his boss, tending to her wounds to keep her alive. And, Daniel, I'm sorry, you may deny it, but we decided you are a hero because you ran through the chaos to minister to your boss and tend to her wounds and keep her alive.

We are grateful for the men who tackled the gunman as he stopped to reload. Right over there [pointing out men] We are grateful for petite Patricia Maisch, who wrestled away the killer’s ammunition and undoubtedly saved some lives. And we are grateful for the doctors and nurses and first responders who worked wonders to heal those who’d been hurt.

These men and women remind us that heroism is found not only on the fields of battle. 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.

Their actions, their selflessness, poses a challenge to each of us. It raises the question of what, beyond prayers and expressions of concern, is required of us going forward.  How can we honor the fallen?  How can we be true to their memory?

You see, when a tragedy like this strikes, it is part of our nature to demand explanations, to try to impose some order on the chaos, and make sense out of that which seems senseless.  Already we’ve seen a national conversation commence, not only about the motivations behind these killings, but about everything from the merits of gun safety laws to the adequacy of our mental health systems. And much of this process, of debating what might be done to prevent such tragedies in the future, is an essential ingredient in our exercise of self-government.

But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - 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 - it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Scripture tells us that there is evil in the world, and that terrible things happen for reasons that defy human understanding. In the words of Job, 'when I looked for light, then came darkness.' Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.

For the truth is that 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.

Yes, we must examine all the facts behind this tragedy.  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.

But what we can’t do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's 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 that our hopes and dreams are bound together.

After all, that’s what most of us do when we lose someone in our family -– especially if the loss is unexpected.  We’re shaken out of our routines, forced to look inward. We reflect on the past. Did we spend enough time with an aging parent, we wonder. Did we express our gratitude for all the sacrifices they made for us? Did we tell a spouse just how desperately we loved them, not just once in awhile but every single day?

So sudden loss causes us to look backward – but it also forces us to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future, on the manner in which we live our lives and nurture our relationships with those who are still with us. We may ask ourselves if we’ve shown enough kindness, generosity, compassion to the people in our lives. Perhaps we may question whether we are doing right by our children, our community, whether our priorities are in order. We recognize our own mortality; we are reminded that in our fleeting time on earth, what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame -– but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in making the lives of other people better.

That process of reflection, of making sure we align our values with our actions - that, I believe, is what a tragedy like this requires. For those who were harmed, those who were killed - they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong. We may not have known them personally, but surely we see ourselves in them. In George and Dot, in Dorwan and Mavy, we sense the abiding love we have for our own husbands, our own wives, our own life partners. Phyllis - she’s our mom or our grandma; Gabe, our brother or son. In Judge Roll, we recognize not only a man who prized his family and doing his job well, but also a man who embodied America’s fidelity to the law. And 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.

And in Christina, in Christina we see all of our children. So curious, so trusting, so energetic, so full of magic. So deserving of our love.

And so deserving of our good example. 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 with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better - to be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, it did not, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud.

We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other’s ideas without questioning each other’s love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

They believe and I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that's entirely up to us. And I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed.  Imagine, imagine here for a moment, a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just beginning to glimpse that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future.  She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism, vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America 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.

This was already mentioned, Christina was given to us on September 11th, 2001, one of 50 babies born that day to be pictured in a book called “Faces of Hope.” On either side of her photo in that book were simple wishes for a child’s life. 'I hope you help those in need,' read one. '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.'

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

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in restful and eternal peace. May He love and watch over the survivors. And may He bless the United States of America.

soundoff (251 Responses)
  1. Mara

    God Bless President Obama–this speech is a lesson to us all. I'll remember it for a long time. I didn't think anything could possibly lesson the pain of the Arizona massacre, but this has...a bit.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck Trent

      No, nothing can reduce the suffering of the people of Tucson, but is that any reason to NOT try. Life has to go on and while the losses will never be GOTTEN OVER, people in Tucson & the rest of the country, will learn to live with it. I'm still not "over" the JFK assasination but I've learned to live with it.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • Debbie

      Please remember that this was a memorial service, and I have never been more impressed with Mr. Obama. His speech was the best he has ever made. I was more than a speech it was giving hope and showing how much the country cares for the people who lost there love ones. Please stop trying to make it more than it was

      January 12, 2011 at 10:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcie

      I could not listen to the commentaries anymore with you all "Band of Newsmen" on Anderson Cooper anymore! The tone with which the President spoke and the context of it was exactly the community of Tucson wanted to hear and needed. The comment was already made at the start of this which was that even though it's a city of one million, it is a small town and that is to whom the President spoke! It wasn't about a campaign speech or anything else, it was a Memorial and a Celebration and he delivered. Raspberries to all of you who spoke on the Anderson Cooper follow up.

      January 12, 2011 at 10:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Really?

      I agree, this is one of the most inspiring speech that the President have given. Let us show this generation and future generations that we can strieve to be the better persons we can be despite our different views. Great job Mr. President.

      January 12, 2011 at 11:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill in Florida

      These are great words of hope from a great man, but I hope we'll all realize that we are also a great people. Our differences don't hurt us. They make us strong. If we can realize that, we'll all be better off.

      January 13, 2011 at 2:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      Never seen a memorial service with so much cheer and applause. Nothing more than political grandstanding.
      You probably think this man wrote that speech....fool.

      January 13, 2011 at 8:59 am | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff

    I am at a loss for words and offended of the tenor of this memorial service. Personally I find the clapping, cheering, and the parade of politicians more reminiscent of a political event than an event reflecting this terrible tragedy and loss. How sad!

    January 12, 2011 at 9:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • D

      Jeff, Are you an American? Here is a caring community that is afflicted. The only thing they need now is anything that will heal the deep wound in them. If you can hold off your comment for a latter day, you will prove to me that you are an American, a real one. By the way, have you watched the mine tragedy in Chile? The chilean President stood there, eat there, slept there until the last miner was carried out of the hole. Does that tell you something?

      January 12, 2011 at 9:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      I completely agree, although I feel Obama is not to blame for the inappropriate applause before and after his speech, he appeared to be a little put off as well in my opinion.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Matt

      Just to clarify, It is not the clapping that I take issue with,I understand how that fits into the situation, but the hooting and hollering makes it sound like this is some sort of pop star concert.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donald

      Jeff, have you ever been to a fuuneral in Louisiana? Or a good old fashion wake.
      The President and the people there were right on time and their feelings were emotional for the good of the families and all America.
      Aloha
      Don

      January 12, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Suzanne Davis Bredy

      Obama did a beautiful job expressing the true sadness we all feel right now! Jeff, I am sorry for you that you must find something not to like here - search your soul and try to see what the love of God, the world and humanity really means. This has nothing to do with politics whatsoever. True empathy and compassion are nonpolitical. Shame on you. We are all grieving the loss of life of some very special souls - it is time to celebrate life and pray that our world might head to and for a more healing and positive direction.

      January 13, 2011 at 1:01 am | Report abuse |
    • objecttothis

      I also thought the clapping and cheering were very out of place as well. If you're holding a gathering to mourn the tragedy then mourn it. If you gather to give a pep talk then Tuscon is not the place to do it. I can imagine however that those people who lost folks are grateful for the sympathy of so many.

      January 13, 2011 at 2:04 am | Report abuse |
    • canonscottage

      Re the applause: I'm an Episcopal priest and it's not been our "custom" to applaud in ANY part of a service. However, these are new times, and I've come to recognize that applause many times is the only way many people can express themselves, and I think it's just fine. It was all part of a memorial event and my feelings around the president's remarks was that they could speak to a variety of people. So whether one thinks applause or shouting or just sitting it right or wrong, that's just a personal opinion. There is no one way to respond or to mourn.

      January 13, 2011 at 4:09 am | Report abuse |
  3. marty

    Mr. President you are a class act. Stay your course, STEADY AS YOU ROLL.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Isayyy

      I don't think there is another person in the United States can do what president Obama did today. He is smart, intellegent, kind, considerate, passionate, caring... So CLASSY!!! Good Speech, way to go Mr. President!!!

      January 12, 2011 at 9:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • juna

      I agree – Obama hold steady.

      January 12, 2011 at 10:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Donald

      As a Republican this is the first time I can say I am proud of the President.
      aloha
      Don

      January 12, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cie

    This is a public memorial for the victims of a political assassination attempt. You are shocked at politicians? And you are clearly NOT of any cultural tradition that separates a memorial or 'wake' from the somber solemn funeral. However, lots of other people (yes Jeff,
    there are OTHER people) follow that tradition. Thank you for showing that nasty bigots are still out there and sniping!!!

    January 12, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck Trent

      It IS possible to have a memorial service AND a pep rally. As a United Methodist minister I have conducted many of them. Our president did a wonderful job tonight.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • canonscottage

      @Cie - I believe your thoughts are excellent - until the last sentence. We don't need that kind of name calling. I HOPE that we can become more civil in dealing with one another.

      January 13, 2011 at 4:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Em

      I was frustrated by the applause at the beginning of the service and I expressed it to my family as we watched from home. I was reminded, however, that the intent of the service was to start the healing process and move toward emotional recovery. When I though of it in that light, I can understand how the applause might be beneficial to some. I think it could have done without some of the screamers.

      I was very impressed by the President's speech. Well done.

      January 13, 2011 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  5. kit

    A Republican, she took a liking to Gabby, and wanted to get to know her better.

    Why is this important???? Leave politics out of it PLEASE.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Has Had Enough

      I think the point is that people from different parties can still respect each other. Try it.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      Used as an example to show us that no matter tour differences, we should all be united in love for each other and our country.
      Faith, Hope and Love with Love being the greatest of them all. Try it.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:54 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Sandy

    Good job Mr President! Thank you for doing the part of your job of pulling us back together after such a terrible tragedy.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:24 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Real TN Christian

    What a president! WHAT A PRESIDENT!!!!! I'm Proud to be an American!!!

    January 12, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • TN teacher

      Amen, from another TN Christian and teacher.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • A proud Baptist

      I saw the video clip and read the transcript. I started crying when he quoted from Psalm 46 and I reached for my Bible. Here's how it starts "God is our Shelter and our strength. Always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid..."
      I know some in the audience knew where the President had gotten the quote. I hope that scripture can comfort them and others who need the arms of God.
      And thank God for working through President Obama. He brought the right words for this troubled time.

      January 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      This was the kind and style of speech I read about 6 years ago which caused me to write to his senatorial address saying "I want you to be my President someday."

      January 12, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jeff

    "For those who were harmed, those who were killed – they are part of our family, an American family 300 million strong" – President Obama.

    Truer words were never spoken. Thank you Mr. President. That was an incredible speech.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      For the record, I'm not the same Jeff as above who was complaining about people clapping. Ridiculous.

      January 12, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
  9. iho

    Jeff, this was a a celebration of life of the six victims. We are not only mourning their deaths but celebrating their life. The crowd clapped each time the President said the names of the victim. Then they clapped because of his words of healing and hope. Please don't blame the president for the clapping. If he didn't come to the event at all, you probably would've complain about that too. We need to come together as a nation.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Cie

    Hey Kit – he gave the info that the victims families gave to him when they met before the speech. It is important because her survivors wanted that known about her.

    And yep – what ya gotta say about the republicans on the platform??? They are the majority there.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
  11. ugh

    I wish he could just speak from the heart like Jon Stewart did. He's so scripted, so dry, and didn't come close to my expectations of someone who got a nobel peace prize thrown at him simply because people needed him. America needs him more than ever, but he keeps letting his lame speechwriters do all the talking for him- if he would have talked for 5 mins off the top of his head rather then regurgitate this PC crap for about a half hour it would have been more effective tenfold to help the healing process.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Daman

      so, how is he different from any other politician? Palin speaks without handlers and look at the incoherent dribble pour out and coagulate on the floor, politicians are ALL scripted or they fall into obscurity

      January 12, 2011 at 9:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • darnshamesomepeople

      Indeed sickening u are!
      some people are so full of hate they can't see the anything but hate....sad excuse for a human being....I guess the republicans were all so genuine.......I think they all had more heart than you! LOSER

      January 12, 2011 at 9:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jacque

      Ugh - you really do not know what you're speaking...he DID WRITE HIS OWN SPEECH. And if you were not touched by it, then I think that speaks more about your ineptness that our President. Great speech, Mr. President, if further confirms for me that the right man has the job of President...

      January 12, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • ric

      So your name is ugh? PERFECT for the silly angry words you spill...my feelings exactly -UGH! You heard exactly what you WANTED to hear...,and it was a mile from what was really said. You ARE the problem......couldn't you try to support a man
      who is trying to heal others? YOU ARE UGH!

      January 12, 2011 at 10:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Smiley

      UGH, sorry you're having a bad day, President Obama's speech was very good guess you didn't watch it.

      January 12, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonumous

      It doesn't appear some people can learn from the tragedies of their countries citizens. Very sad. Lets hope none of the victim's families are reading this blog. President Obama was truly compassionate and a class act.

      January 13, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. Cie

    Ugh – you aren't here. Ask the people in this building and next door in Arizona Stadium. Then spew more.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cie

    Jon Stewart as a role model for sincerity. Wow

    January 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. JcReliever

    Nicely done, Mr. President.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Richard Croker

    "...we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."
    A tall order, Mr. President, but a worthy one.

    January 12, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anonymous

      Well said!

      January 13, 2011 at 12:36 am | Report abuse |
    • gun4heri

      Nope! the shooter was neither influenced nor motivated by Palin's hate speeches, vitriol rhetoric etc. HE WAS PAID!

      But yet the tragedy happened because of too much hate and envy.

      January 13, 2011 at 6:18 am | Report abuse |
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