President Obama joined a nation in mourning to pay tribute, in particular, to the youngest victim of the attack, nine-year old Christina Green, who had participated in Ms. Giffords' civic engagement exercise called "Congress on Your Corner", to learn about democracy in action.

Even as the United States struggled to come to terms with the shock of a violent shooting in Tucson, Arizona, last weekend, in which six people were killed and 14, including Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords, seriously injured, President Barack Obama and senior administration officials paid homage to the victims and their loved ones at a memorial ceremony on Wednesday.

The President also told a crowd that had assembled at the function that “Gabby,” who was recuperating, in Tucson’s University Medical Centre, from a near-fatal head wound that Jared Lee Loughner (22) inflicted with his Glock semiautomatic pistol in a crowded marketplace, had opened her eyes for the first time after he had visited her.

Visibly moved, Mr. Obama said, “A few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues in Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time... 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 udoubtedly going to be a difficult journey.”

In a eulogy to those who were killed in the attack the President called for political leadership that sought to heal rather wound. He said, “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 is important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

He joined a nation in mourning to pay tribute, in particular, to the youngest victim of the attack, nine-year old Christina Green, who had participated in Ms. Giffords' civic engagement exercise called “Congress on Your Corner", to learn about democracy in action.

Mr. Obama said, “Here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship... She saw public service as something exciting and hopeful,” adding, “I want to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it.”

In the aftermath of last Saturday’s rampage by Loughner, who has since been in custody and charged with murder and attempted murder, the public discourse and news media here have been seared by a visceral debate that has blamed violence-inciting vitriol by Republican Party elements, and also a pervasive gun culture, for the shooting spree.

Former Governor of Alaska and Tea Party heavyweight Sarah Palin in particular faced a barrage of criticism this week for suggesting, after the 2010 debates on healthcare reform, that various Democratic Congressmen and their district strongholds, including Ms. Giffords, be placed in the “crosshairs” of Republicans.

On Wednesday Ms. Palin posted a video response on her Facebook page, in which she condemned those who blamed her for the shooting for committing “blood libel.”

However Mr. Obama, who quoted lines from the scriptures in an emotion-laden speech that he was said to have written himself, shied away from partisan or accusatory statements, instead calling for civility in public discourse and cautioning against “simple explanations” in the search for reasons behind the killings.

“Let us make sure it is not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle,” he said, adding, “what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.”

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