Obama mourns with Tucson at memorial event

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by Natalie Rivers and The Associated Press

azfamily.com

Posted on January 12, 2011 at 4:22 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 12 at 9:15 PM

TUCSON, Ariz. - President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, along with other national leaders, landed in Tucson on Wednesday to offer their support to Tucson and the country in the wake of Saturday's mass shooting.

From the airport, Obama and the others headed to University Medical Center to meet with those at the hospital.

Obama and the first lady also met with the families of the victims during his trip.

Obama then spoke at the "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America" memorial event held at the McKale Center on the campus of the University of Arizona before heading home Wednesday evening.

The program opened with a Native American blessing. The lineup of speakers included University of Arizona President Robert N. Shelton, student body President Emily Fritze, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' intern Daniel Hernandez Jr., Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, followed by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, U.S. Attorney Eric Holder and Obama.

Thousands of people lined up hours before for the special memorial event honoring the shooting victims.

Shortly before 2 p.m., University of Arizona officials said the line had already reached the point of the capacity inside McKale Center. The university set up Arizona Stadium for the overflow crowd of to view the event on the scoreboard.

The crowd in the main venue warmed up with a number of live performances, though "Amazing Grace" was almost drowned out by cheers as the surgeons treating the victims of the massacre were escorted to their seats.

Spectators also roared when Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was shown on the large screen. Dupnik drew praise and criticism after he blamed the rampage in part on extreme political rhetoric, bigotry and hatred.

Many were looking to the president to provide healing and promote a spirit of unity in the wake of the attempted assassination of Giffords in a mass shooting that left six people dead and 13 more wounded, including Giffords.

Obama began his speech talking about Giffords. He said Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, knows that Americans love her and are rooting for her recovery. Calling Giffords by her nickname, "Gabby," the president said: "She knows we love her."

He said she opened her eyes for the first time after he visited her at the hospital late Wednesday afternoon.

Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, watched from the front row at the service.

He then spoke about the six victims who died in the tragedy.

Obama told listeners that "the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us." For all our imperfections, the president said, "we are full of decency and goodness." He said that the victims and heroes of Saturday's shootings helped convince him of that.

Among the others in attendance at the event included Former Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O'Connor, Sen. John McCain, Sen. Jon Kyl, Rep. Ben Quayle, the team of doctors from UMC, victim Pam Simon and the families of the shooting victims.

The University of Arizona a total of 26,172 attended the event; 13,172 inside McKale Center and 13,000 at Arizona Stadium.

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