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. MP

    I'm in Tucson and thought the ceremony/service was well done overall. Thanks to all involved.
    Music-Appropriate and well done.
    Various dedications and bible readings-Appropriate,
    Pres.Obama's Speech-Fantastic!
    Applause-Fine.
    Hollering /shouting and cheering- uh.....that was a little weird and inappropriate in my mind.

    January 13, 2011 at 3:06 am | Report abuse |
  2. Ed Bailey

    Thank you Mr.President, whether or not you weather the storm you are what I hoped you would be. I hope the world will do the best for change. I don't hold out a lot of hope since I really do hate my government, but I respect its leader highly. I know why people like this tortured child gunman are confused and lost.I had a very hard time accepting he DEFENDED our country and then sadness. UTAH taught me why people ttorture and kill. Mr. Romney,CULTS should never lead a country america take note!

    January 13, 2011 at 3:22 am | Report abuse |
  3. Lisah

    My heart goes out to the families, friends of the dead and all others suffering, the Tuscon community. It takes a federal judge to get gunned down to see the capabilities of an insane person running wild. I've been burn, got the hell beat out of me in my own home while I was sleeping. Lost my unborn child. The caretakers coming in my home while I sleeping. I got cut marks on my body. The police or the sheriff department has not arrested them yet. They'll do a follow up but tonight one outside door mad cause I changed my locks and cant hurt me anymore. This is an outrage. I cant get any justice. Want about my dead unborn? Want about its life and its future? I aint nobody. Just a poor, black woman that need to in back to where ever it is I came from. God bless all of us. Amen.

    January 13, 2011 at 3:43 am | Report abuse |
  4. Bertrand Bahuet

    I don't know if there is a God or not. But you have a great President and can be proud of him.And throw your weapons to the garbage.

    January 13, 2011 at 4:47 am | Report abuse |
  5. cmr

    @ every1 whi thinks this not a time to cheer: there gona b plenty of days in which the familes of thoes who lost there love ones are gona cry & mournif for one moment they choose to celebrate the good/lives of there loved ones whats wrong with that? not everyone chooses to live in bitterness & saddness forever.. hooping & hollering well thats a bite much. clapping/appluding in the face of agreement & hope whats so wrong with it? even if obama didnt mean a word he said it give people hope & comfort even if it was for a moment. overall it was a great speech with a strong message. well done mr. president from my heart to yours 🙂

    January 13, 2011 at 5:12 am | Report abuse |
  6. Thom

    Wonderful speech. Inspiring. Exactly what was needed to be said, and needed to be hear. I want us to live up to Christina's expectations as well, and for our democracy to be as good as she imagined it.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
  7. Orlando

    We are all children of God. Today, the President of the United States, honored our children, our nation, Americans and those whose lives hang in the balance or are no longer with us. He spoke of coming together as Americans, 300 million strong and working together to meet the expectations of our children. We mourn and are saddened, but tomorrow and the next day, the sun will rise and we will reflect on what our contributions to peace in the world can be. Thank you Mr. President for reminding us that we all belong to the human race and we all have responsibilities to contribute and make peace in our own world.

    January 13, 2011 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
  8. termlimits

    Nice speech, unfortunetly the students turned it into a political pep rally. It really showed how far the "dumbing down of America" has gone.

    January 13, 2011 at 7:08 am | Report abuse |
  9. Scared

    Unless this nation finds a way to disagree without being diagreeable this will be the battle style of a new civil war. Only this time there will be no clear separation of combatants. Remember, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

    January 13, 2011 at 8:20 am | Report abuse |
  10. anonynmouse100

    At times like these we ask ourselves often, where was God. God was in the heroes like Daniel Hernandes and the other incredibly selfless people who put their own safety at risk to save others struck down.

    Obama the rock star delivered the best speech of his presidency, btw. Tucson – we share in your grief and shock and we will heal together.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:10 am | Report abuse |
  11. bonnie

    President Obama gave a wonderful speech at the memorial service. My hope is that the Tuscon tragedy and his speech will not only bring the country closer in the next few weeks and months, but also in the years to come. Our country needs to set an example for the rest of the world as one of peace and harmony. May God bless America!

    January 13, 2011 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      It depends what is said and done in the months to come. Bush gave a great speach after 9-11 and people continued to strongly cut him down and spew rhetoric at him (to this day). It really depends

      January 13, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      @ John your right it does depend on how we ( the people, the media etc) act following this. It does depend on how our president acts. I remember GWB speech after 9-11 and It was one of his best orations he ever gave. I as a liberal stood with our country in mourning, I stood by my president and his words even the aspect of revenge in which he said. "We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them." He had a strong militaristic view in his very short speech most of which was devoted to talking about our military our resolve etc not so much of the human aspect and then ended with a short Bible quote and request for blessing for our nation. In hindsite I see the sabre coming from the scabbard that would become our invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. GWB actions drew the wrath of the citizens because We don't like war in general. The wars that proceeded cost lives, families dreams, and lots and lots of unfunded money. The wars one of which had no real honest justification and one (probably the most justifiable in my opion) that was basically overlooked while he was in office. Yes it depends what he does and President Obama is getting us out of the financial hole dug by GWB, he is getting us out of the wars started by GWB, he is leading a more civil and intelligent debate in this country. Bless President Obama!!

      January 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      I do not want to read things into your words so I will ask the question. Do you think there was something wrong with him saying we will make no distinction between those who committed the acts and those who harbor them? This country was attacted.
      I understand your view, I just do not agree with it or much of what OB has done to this country. Just like I didn't agree with the attack on the right on the same day as the shooting and the days following. Somehow it was ok for the left to blindly attack in this horrible situation and outright blame free speach and people on the right. Especially given the fact these same people were protecting muslums, and rightly so, after the attack on Fort Hood. It seems like a very bizzare approach.

      January 13, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      btw, I know I can't spell. It was my public school training.

      January 13, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • James Paycheck

      I want to say that "Freedom" for me, means that "any" individual has the God given right, to live a life without the fear of violence of any kind, mental or physical. A person can speak their mind, do what pleases them, and even resort to name calling when angered... but violence is never an acceptible behaviour in a society based on "Freedom"! It is a very sad day when a distorted, mentally unstable mind, challenges and tests our beliefs in "Freedom", however... "Freedom" shall endure because it is our God given gift that we hold on to as a nation and a people. Sometimes, God allows things to happen that are mysterious and questionable to us. With this being said, it is my hope that we, as a people and a nation, can turn this disasterous event into an example of what "Freedom" means by sticking together in prayer, and showing the world what we are all about. As for the person that has tarnished our "Freedom", I will leave that up to our lawmakers and keepers.

      January 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Amelia

    I do believe that Obama gave a wonderful speech, an as he was using quote from the Bible was awesome and moving. But as for the people attacking him cause they say that they felt as if it was like a pep rally, or a campaign,come on people you can't condemn him for his speech,he only wrote what he felt that would be consoling an some sort of comfort to the victims and their families,what the people reactions was,was intirely on their own, but people are only human,just like our president.I believe he touched on every person an every part very well.But apparentlly some didn't take to heart when he said, let's attack people but to love and encourage people, an guess what? He's a person too.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
    • Joy

      Yes, it was a great speech, but why were there THOUSANDS of T-SHIRTS WITH SAYINGS ON THEM GIVEN OUT TO PEOPLE. Does that not say CAMPAIGN MODE????? If this was done by a conservative..... the blogs and CABLE NETWORKS would have been all over them for it being DISTASTEFUL. I am a Dem and thought the t-shirts were unacceptable.

      January 13, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • A Saddened American

      Amelia,

      Obama did not write that speech, he had writers who did. Sadly Obama made it a pep rally, campaign rally, and he was very disrespectful to the deceased, the injured, and the families; when he and his staff gave out t-shirts to all those that attended. I believe Obama should go on national tv this evening and apologize for his stupidity and poor judgment. But he won't! He will continue to drive this country to the point of no return and then be voted out of office.

      January 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • beesquare

      Obama writes his own speeches. And his own books. Mostly late at night after the wife and kids have gone to bed.

      January 14, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  13. Amelia

    Let me rephrase let's NOT attack but love,an encourage,remember we are all one in God,but that's what's wrong, God has been totally gone out of this world.

    January 13, 2011 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      I was wondering about that.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
    • Cassandra

      Amelia- God is not "out of this world" but Alive and working in those who choose to live a life that is seperate from what the World considers "normal" or "right". He mournes these lives more than anyone could understand because we are "His portion" He loves us and is all about Justice. We lean not on our own understanding, but trust that (if we believe) God "Is before all things and by Him all things hold together." as for Obama-well, my stradegy is to pray. Pray that my God, who is all powerful and merciful, in a world that is cursed and dissalusioned, my be rescued from the "conterfiet" that's been offered to us; choosing Life over Death; the oil of Joy over Sadness; real Understanding over confusion and the lack of answers. I am a person of prayer. Not religion or exstremism but rather of faith; the ability to put my trust in our Creator. God is active in those who really truly love Him; for a True father really responds to his children and the cry of their hearts. I know that when I pray for our president, God responds; quicking his heart to follow the purest heart of all. The heart of God.

      January 16, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Where was John McCain? Doesn't he care? Why is he hiding?

    January 13, 2011 at 9:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Debra

      You need to reread Mr. Obama's speech.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Grace

      He was there.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • UHhello

      In all honesty you don't usually run against a candidate and then hand him the podium once you have beaten him...in politics anyway.

      January 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • goings colors

      Some of these people's comment just don't get it..the t-shirts were given out by the University of Arizona.. this was not a pep rally you morons..this was a memorial service for the dead and wounded..The President"s speach was directed at ALL AMERICANS..not Politicians..so it is people like you who will never adhere to a peaceful democracy..

      January 14, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  15. .ark

    I commend the President for going to the memorial in Arizona, I truly do. I'm just curious why the President didn't go to the funerals and memorials for the Chicago Fire Fighters who died in the line of duty! Is it really just a political thing because he knew the politician? I hope not!!!!

    January 13, 2011 at 10:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Reply

      It is likely that he went because the deaths were caused by a voluntary act of violence, whereas the terrible tragedy with the Chicago Firefighters was caused by a situation (indirectly caused by people). Just a thought.

      January 13, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
    • Joy

      I totally agree with your remarks. I guess they weren't as IMPORTANT....

      January 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lin

      Probably because firefighters and police officers die in the line of duty so often and he can't be at every civil servant's funeral, while these types of massacres are (well they used to be) rare...just like Va. Tech and Ft. Hood, it's the kind of tragedy where you expect the Pres. to not just say something but be there. But beyond that, it has to be somewhat political because it wasn't just a mass shooting, it was an ASSASSINATION attempt, albeit a pea-brained one. And the Pres. since the Pres. wasn't the one in the crosshairs, he has to go out there.

      January 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • myeyedea

      The President may have needed to go to this memorial because this particular incident, unlike the Chicago firefighters one you mentioned, was starting to turn the country in on itself in a very unhealthy way politically. As the head of the nation I think in this situation, unlike some other mass tragedies that have happened in the country, he had an obligation to step up and remind this country that we need to band together to be supportive of each other in a time of greif and mourning and not devolve into the inefficiencies of party standoffs. So, in a way, yes, it's political, but not political in the avenue of "rah rah, support your party" but political in the avenue of reminding us that politics has its place and this isn't it.

      January 13, 2011 at 7:05 pm | Report abuse |
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