President Obama on Monday called on the nation to work together in the wake of the Arizona shooting rampage that left Rep. Gabrielle Giffords critically wounded and six dead after an act the president called “mindless violence.”
Speaking to reporters after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama also praised the courage of the people who helped apprehend the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, who is scheduled to make his first court appearance later this afternoon. Giffords remains in critical condition but doctors were guardedly upbeat on Monday in describing her condition after Saturday’s shooting spree in Tucson.
“Obviously all of us are still grieving and in shock from the tragedy that took place,” Obama said.
“I think it is important for us to also focus, though, on extraordinary courage that was shown during the course of these events,” the president said, citing the wounded woman who helped secure the ammunition, the college student who ran into the line of fire to rescue his boss and those who wrestled the gunman to the ground during the attack.
“That speaks to the best of America even in the face of such mindless violence,” Obama said.
The incident has become a lightning rod for the ongoing debate on civility at a time of highly partisan and divisive politics. Obama and Republican leaders have stressed the need for comity.
“In the coming days we are going to have a lot of time to reflect,” Obama said. “Right now the main thing we’re doing is to offer our thoughts and prayers to those who have been impacted, making sure we’re joining together and pulling together as a country.”
Earlier Monday, Obama led the nation in mourning. Accompanied by staffers and first lady Michelle Obama, the president stood, head bowed, observing a national moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House, a symbol of the outpouring of grief and shock as the political world reeled from an attack on one of its own.
Three chimes were sounded as a memorial. Then, his arm around the first lady’s waist, the pair returned to the White House.
The House has delayed much of its usual business, including a proposed repeal of the healthcare overhaul, but will consider special resolutions this week honoring Giffords and other victims. The House also honored its own as staffers gathered in a memorial at the Capitol and House Office Building.
According to doctors in Tucson, Giffords is still in critical condition. The lack of any change is a good sign, hospital officials said on Monday. Giffords is one of two people who remain in the intensive-care unit at University Medical Center, doctors said at a televised news conference. Two patients from Saturday’s shooting have been discharged, and five are listed in serious condition.
“At this phase in the game, no change is good, and we have no change,” said Dr. Michael Lemole Jr., chief of the division of neurosurgery. “She is still following those basic commands, and on top of that, the CAT scans are showing that there is no progression of the swelling.
“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he said. “That swelling can sometimes take three days or five days to maximize. But every day that goes by and we don’t see an increase, we slightly more optimistic.”
Loughner, who has been in custody since the Saturday morning shooting outside a Tucson supermarket where Giffords was greeting constituents, is scheduled to appear in federal court Monday. Loughner, 22, faces five counts of murder and attempted murder of federal employees.
Investigators have said that Giffords, 40, was Loughner’s principal target. She was wounded in the head and remained in critical condition after surgery designed to relieve the danger of damage from swelling of the brain.
Loughner is expected to be represented by attorney Judy Clark, who defended Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma bombing case and “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. Both of those cases are similar to the Arizona case, where extreme violence took place against a background of some form of politics. But Clark also has defended non-political cases, including representing Susan Smith, a South Carolina woman who drowned her two sons in 1994.
Investigators have painted a picture of Loughner as an outcast who mistrusted government. Over the weekend, an FBI agent described a search of Loughner’s Tucson home, where he found an envelope scrawled with the phrases “I planned ahead” and “My assassination,” along with the name “Giffords.” The envelope also had what appeared to be Loughner’s signature on it.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said Loughner was being uncommunicative with investigators.
Over the weekend, officials said they were continuing to look for any connections between Loughner and hate groups as part of their background check on the suspect. But Dupnik told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that it was doubtful that Loughner was part of any conspiracy.
“He’s a typical troubled individual who’s a loner,” the sheriff said.
Giffords, a moderate Democrat, had faced threats before for her positions in favor of Obama’s healthcare overhaul and for her support of immigration reform, a touchy issue in Arizona. But she continued to meet constituents in open settings like the one Saturday.
Authorities said that Loughner had legally purchased a semiautomatic pistol, which he allegedly fired at Giffords and the crowd.
Those killed included U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, 63, and 9-year-old Christina Green, born on Sept. 11, 2001. Green’s parents have repeatedly called for end to the type of violence that killed their 9-year-old daughter.
Others killed were Giffords’ aide Gabe Zimmerman, 30; Dorothy Morris, 76; Dorwan Stoddard, 76; and Phyllis Schneck, 79.