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Obama Speech Evokes Emotional Moments in Tucson

January 13, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Tom Bearden reports from Tucson on thoughts and feelings after President Obama's speech remembering the victims of Saturday's shooting rampage.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: reaction to last night’s memorial service and the president’s remarks.

We begin with a report from NewsHour correspondent Tom Bearden, who was at the Tucson event and spoke with members of the community afterward.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TOM BEARDEN: There were many more people who wanted to attend the memorial service than the auditorium could hold.So, officials directed the overflow to the nearby football stadium, where people watched on the scoreboard screen as the temperature steadily dropped.

This crowd of about 15,000 is somewhat subdued.The loudest applause lines came when the president introduced the people who had come to the congresswoman’s aid.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: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, in the hearts of so many of our fellow citizens, all around us, just waiting to be summoned, as it was on Saturday morning.

TOM BEARDEN: Mic Denfeld watched with tears in her eyes.She teaches writing at Pima Community College, the school that suspended accused gunman Jared Loughner.

MIC DENFELD, teacher, Pima Community College:Yes, I’m tearful.I’m in such pain over the death of the child, too.It was like the crowning thing on the whole tragedy of saying, this child — our whole future is the child.I teach those young adults.I love all of them.They’re going to go forth in the world.They’re going to do the most tremendous things that you’ve ever seen.I believe that.I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

So, is it emotional?Oh, yes.And to have the president come, the president of the United States, is so incredible to me.So, yes, tears.Yay.I’m glad I feel.I hope everybody feels it.I hope you do and all of yours.

TOM BEARDEN: Dennis Palmer was having trouble with his emotions, too, particularly when the president talked about 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, one of the people who died in the burst of gunfire on Saturday.

BARACK OBAMA: 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.

DENNIS PALMER, businessman:It just hit home for some reason.I can’t explain it.You know, so, I can’t explain it.It was just something that hit home with me.

Well, I just wanted to be part of the healing process that the city and the state of Arizona is going through.Personally, I just wanted to show my support for the victims that lost their lives on Saturday.And, for myself, too, just for a personal — I wanted to be part of what was going on tonight, so I could personally deal with what happened this last Saturday.

TOM BEARDEN: One of the most emotional moments of the night came when the president delivered the news about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

BARACK OBAMA: 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.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: Gabby opened her eyes.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BARACK OBAMA: 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.We are there for her.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TOM BEARDEN: Retired architect Lorenzo Cotton said the president’s speech was powerful.

LORENZO COTTON, retired architect:I thought the way he made it personal for all the events personalized it, the people that had got injured, and then the touching part where he let the nation know that Congresswoman Giffords had opened her eyes for the first time.

TOM BEARDEN: Much of the president’s speech called for a greater level of civility.And, on this night, many in the crowd we spoke with agreed.