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. jimmie

    It's funny how people can hear the same speech and inturprep it in different ways. For me, I felt very close to the victums and the state of Arizona. Well done Mr President. Aloha

    January 13, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Otto

    I saw the President speak at the memmorial tonight. His former adviser and best friend Rahm Emanuel once said, "Never allow a crisis go to waste." He certainly followed up on that; even using all of the same facial expressions and body language that fooled so many a couple of years ago. I would say the president has kicked off his re-election bid.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:12 am | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Sherri W.W.#1~ ILLinois

    The parents of Christine Taylor Green must have had the worst day of their life today,as they buried their little girl.But,Tonight had to give them comfort,pride and the knowledge that their Christine will never be forgotten.Tonight,she was given to a part of this Nations'history forever. I hope that we Americans can do as the President said,and make this country into one Christine would be proud to call hers. I also think people misunderstand,many times, when the President,or others talk of God.I think our President believes as I do~whatever your beliefs,whatever God you believe in,it does not have to be the same God I believe in. Just so you believe and are comforted,that is fine~and your business.We must all learn that tolerance,and to read between the lines~that many times no one minds what you believe about God at all.Now that is probably something little Christine would also believe in.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:28 am | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sherri W.W.#1~ILLinois

    Good Night and God Bless us,our Nation, and our President.May we grow better and stronger each day.

    January 13, 2011 at 12:33 am | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Bakar

    Absolutely comforting speech Mr president. There will always be evil around us and some people are just full of hatred and have to find a fault in everything. I am not American but I am proud to be in American and see how this great country lives to its values rather than attacking each other. I am here because it is a country of freedom, of peace, of intellectual growth,opportunity and humble people. You have to be proud of your country and of your president! I am proud of Americans and of President Obama. May the soul of the victime rest in peace and may we all live to the expectations of our children. Peace

    January 13, 2011 at 12:39 am | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ray

    obama just cant pray with us, cause then he'd have to get out his prayer rug and show he's muslim

    January 13, 2011 at 12:57 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jerry

      You need to go to church,

      January 13, 2011 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
  7. Michael

    President Obama was at his finest moment tonight to heal our nation's wounds.

    January 13, 2011 at 1:14 am | Report abuse | Reply
  8. tara

    Well i have to say that was a good speach by the president. i feel sadness for the famlies whose loved ones are no longer here, and for all the wounded who are now recovering. there is alot of critisism from alot of you tonight, and also a big blame game going on. Im not a big sarah palin fan, but i think it is idiodic to blame her or any other one person, "besides the shooter" for such actions. im not sure if anyone has thought of this , but in the USA we have gun laws and for some reason this man passed a backround Check?? the state of arizona let him by a gun, with a criminal past, being discharged from the military, excused from college, etc... so who really is to blame?? As for the clapping, and cheering , and the hooting and holloring, and whistleing, i think it was distasteful. i also have a few comments for the recent blogs ive read on this page. LOL you must have been sleeping for the last two years, and still need to wake up. TOMBOY 1824 this isnt chile. and DARNSHAMESOMEPEOPLE,I am out of space.

    January 13, 2011 at 1:23 am | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Kellie

    this is unbelievable... im in tucson and was there tonight, this is such a horrible time and horrific how people still have so much hate in their hearts.. sitting around thinking and speaking with such negativity.. god bless you all and many of us were personally affected by this..others jus watching it at home from who knows where and talking about things that are so hurtful..alot of ignorence in this world.I dont wish death upon anybody.. peace be with you all...

    My Prayers are with all the victims and their families <3

    Kellie

    Tucson, Az

    January 13, 2011 at 1:31 am | Report abuse | Reply
  10. tara

    Just to touch-up on my last blog, i might of gotten some names wrong, and if i did i oppologize. i guess that will happen when you single people out, when we really shouldnt. "guilty" but for what i said, you all know who you are and who i am talking about. i will also say, Mr.Obama can control his surroundings and if people were celebrating, he must have wanted them too. if not, he could have made that clear. the word is RESPECT. Alot of us could use a few lessons in that area. what i saw on the news station msnbc last night was most disturbing, do they have anything better to report? other than trying to divide us more, maybe they should be helping keep the peace between the parties instead up reving them up more. nothing unuasual.

    January 13, 2011 at 1:48 am | Report abuse | Reply
  11. objecttothis

    While I am grateful that President Obama would make such an effort to personally address this tragedy from location, I find it kind of funny that no one seems to care that he completely ripped the Bible out of it's context and used it to suit his fancy.

    If a pastor did that, people would be on him faster than flies on trash. Mr. President, the streams in heaven... are not Representative Giffords, and the city of God is not America.

    With that said, let me clarify that I do want Giffords to pull through and I am saddened by those who were needlessly killed, lest anyone accuses me of being one of those idiots from Westborough Baptist.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:10 am | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Lois P

    @Kellie

    We weep with you and the people of Tucson our hearts bleed with compassion..May the Lord our God pour his oil of joy on you and give you his garment of praise for your heaviness...much Love

    January 13, 2011 at 2:11 am | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Jen OH

    Mr. President,
    Thank you for your words. As bad as this has been, your leadership has made me know I made the right decision 11/08. Thank you again.

    To the haters:
    It's called a "Homegoing" when there is clapping and celebration when a life ends. There is nothing wrong with that and the 360 interviews were a disappointment because David and Michael should know better. The haters here? God bless you that you don't become like the "alleged" Amen.

    January 13, 2011 at 2:32 am | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Lisah

    I read the speech.It was great for a memorial. I would like to see another one addressing the nation. The president had a small line about "adequacy of our mental health system". This is a big problem in our country. These are the people suffering and bringing pain, violence, death to our country. They're being overlooked and turned loose in our great nation. This is an important issue that effects and affects millions of our lives everyday. This is a warning, a sign from God take heed. All praises be to God. Amen.

    January 13, 2011 at 3:00 am | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jerry

    This tragedy was very painful for peope here in Tucson – President Obama delivered a speech that will not be forgotten and was so needed. God bless the victims and God bless Pres. Obama.

    .

    January 13, 2011 at 3:04 am | Report abuse | Reply
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