Obama makes unity plea as Giffords opens eyes

Barack Obama appealed for unity at a memorial service for those attacked in the Arizona shooting rampage and implored a divided America to honour them by becoming a better country.

The US president electrified the crowd by revealing that following his Wednesday hospital visit with Representative Gabrielle Giffords, she had opened her eyes for the first time since being shot point-blank in the head in the assassination attempt last week.



First lady Michelle Obama held hands with Ms Giffords' husband, Mark Kelly, as the news brought a cascade of cheers.



While some have blamed America's overheated political climate and the use of violent imagery in campaigns, Mr Obama conceded that there is no way to know what set off Saturday's shooting rampage that left six people dead, 13 others wounded and the nation shaken.



He tried instead to leave indelible memories of the people who were gunned down and to rally the country to use the moment as a reflection on America's behaviour and compassion.



"I believe we can be better," Mr Obama said to a capacity crowd at the University of Arizona basketball arena - and to countless others watching across America.



"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 is entirely up to us."



Mr Obama said Ms Giffords, known as Gabby, opened her eyes a few minutes after he left her intensive care hospital room at Tucson's University Medical Centre, where some of her colleagues in Congress remained.



"Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you: She knows we are here, she knows we love her, and she knows that we are rooting for her through what is undoubtedly going to be a difficult journey," he said.



Three of Ms Giffords' close female friends in Congress were there: House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.



Ms Giffords is expected to survive, although her condition and the extent of her recovery remain in doubt.



As finger-pointing emerged in Washington and beyond over whether harsh political rhetoric played a role in motivating the attack, Mr Obama sought to calm the rhetoric.



"The forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us," he said.



Mr Obama's appeal for unity played out against a deepening political debate.



Earlier, Republican Sarah Palin, criticised for marking Ms Giffords' district and others with the cross-hairs of a gun sight during last autumn's campaign, had taken to Facebook to accuse pundits and journalists of using the attack to incite hatred and violence.



Mr Obama spoke to a crowd of more than 13,000 in the arena and thousands more listened on from an overflow area in the football stadium.



Not far away, at University Medical Centre, Ms Giffords lay fighting for her life. Mr Obama also met with other victims there.



Mr Obama faced the expectation to do more than console, to encourage civility, all without getting overly political in a memorial service.



He challenged Americans to engage in a debate that is worthy of those who died. He tapped into the raging debate about the role of incendiary political speech without dwelling on it.



"Let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy. It did not," the president said.



No matter the cause of the shooting, Mr Obama pleaded for Americans to remain civil now as they debate gun control, mental health services and the motivations of the killer.



"At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarised - 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 think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds," the president said.



The shooting happened on Saturday as Ms Giffords, a three-term Democrat who represents southern Arizona, was holding a community outreach event in a Tucson shopping centre parking lot.



A gunman shot her in the head and worked his way down the line of people waiting to talk with her, law enforcement officials said.



The attack ended when bystanders tackled the man, Jared Lee Loughner, 22, who is in custody.



Mr Obama's speech, by turns sombre and hopeful, at times took on the tone of an exuberant pep rally as he heralded the men who wrestled the gunman to the ground, the woman who grabbed the shooter's ammunition, the doctors and nurses who treated the injured, the intern who rushed to Ms Giffords' aid.



The crowd erupted in multiple standing ovations as each was singled out for praise. The president ended up speaking for more than half an hour, doubling the expected length of his comments.



After offering personal accounts of every person who died, Mr Obama challenged anyone listening to think of how to honour their memories.



He admonished against any instinct to point blame or to drift into political pettiness or to latch onto simple explanations that may have no merit.



Memories of the six people killed dominated much of Mr Obama's speech. The president, for example, recalled how federal Judge John Roll was on his way from attending Mass when he stopped to say hello to Ms Giffords and was gunned down; Dorothy Morris, shielded by her husband, but killed nonetheless; and Phyllis Schneck, a Republican who liked Ms Giffords, a Democrat, and wanted to know her better.



He spoke at length of nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green, the only girl on her baseball team, who often said she wanted to be the first woman to play in the major leagues.



She had just been elected to the student council at her elementary school and had an emerging interest in public service.



Earlier, details of the attacker's activities ahead of the assassination attempt were disclosed.



Before the Saturday shooting, Loughner went shopping at a megastore, was pulled over for running a red light and ran from his father after an angry confrontation



After two shopping trips to Walmart, Loughner ran a red light but was let off with a warning, the Arizona Game and Fish Department said.



The officer took Loughner's driver's licence and vehicle registration information but found no outstanding warrants and did not search the car.



Earlier that morning, a mumbling Loughner ran into the desert near his home after his father asked him why he was removing a black bag from the trunk of a family car, sheriff's officials said.



He resurfaced later Saturday at a grocery store where Ms Giffords was holding an event. There, authorities say, he shot 19 people.



Police records at Pima Community College in Tucson released Wednesday detailed Loughner's increasingly bizarre behaviour last year, culminating with his suspension in September.



The 51 pages of campus police reports, obtained under an open records request, described a series of classroom outbursts and confrontations that prompted worried instructors to summon campus officers.



In a poetry class, he made comments about abortion, wars and killing people, then asked: "Why don't we just strap bombs to babies?"



Police previously said they also found notes with the words "Die, bitch", which they believe referenced Ms Giffords, and "Die, cops."

Sport
premier leagueLive: All the latest news and scores from today's matches
News
politics
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker