WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama said Monday the nation is still in shock over the shooting rampage in Arizona that left a Democratic congresswoman fighting for her life, but he commended the courage of the people on the scene who rushed to help, saying their actions reflect the "best of America."
The president told reporters that Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others injured on Saturday are still fighting to recover. He said he anticipated some type of national memorial that would allow the country to express its sense of loss. The president said he also wanted to make sure that "out of this tragedy, we can come together as a stronger nation."
Speaking in the Oval Office alongside French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Obama’s comments on the shootings overshadowed his business with the visiting leader — just as essentially all of the official business in a rattled Washington has been pushed aside by grief about the events and questions about how to respond.
In total, 19 people were shot in the attack; among the six people killed were Arizona’s chief federal judge, a 9-year-old girl interested in government, and one of Giffords’ aides. The White House said the president may go to Arizona, but the president said he had nothing to announce yet, underscoring that he has been in touch with family members of those shot and killed and is contact with Arizona officials and leaders of Congress.
"In the coming days we’re going to have a lot of time to reflect," the president said. "Right now the main thing we’re doing is to offer our thoughts and prayers to those who’ve been impacted, making sure we’re joining together and pulling together as a country."
Obama said he is reaching out to family members in his role not just as president, but also as a father.
The White House said Obama had called Gifford’s husband, Mark Kelly, and the family of Christina Taylor Green, a 9-year-old girl killed in Saturday’s incident.
Obama made a point to commend the everyday citizens who, in the midst of a horrific scene, intervened to wrestle down the gunman and help those around them. Prosecutors have charged 22-year-old Jared Loughner with one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two counts of attempting to kill a federal employee. More charges are expected.
Earlier, a somber President Barack Obama led a moment of silence on Monday for a nation stunned by the attempted assassination against an Arizona congresswoman. On a frigid Washington morning, the president and first lady Michelle Obama walked out of the White House to the sounding of a bell at 6 a.m. Hawaii time. Wearing overcoats, they stood next to each other on the South Lawn, each with their hands clasped, heads bowed and eyes closed.
The moment also was marked on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and around the nation at the direction of the president, who called for the country to come together in prayer or reflection for those killed and those fighting to recover. Giffords was shot point-blank in the head. She remains in intensive care.
The White House said the president has been briefed several times on the ongoing investigation by counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, including two updates Monday morning.
At the Supreme Court, the justices paused for a moment of silence between the two cases they were hearing Monday morning. Earlier, Chief Justice John Roberts said the shootings "caused devastating injury to persons who all, in their own way, contribute to the strength of our nation."
Up Pennsylvania Avenue, hundreds of Capitol Hill aides, including those from Giffords’ office, gathered in an ornate parlor just off the House floor Monday morning. At a few minutes to 11 a.m. EST, they followed House and Senate Sergeants at Arms Bill Livingood and Terrance Gainer out the doors, through the pillars and down the East-facing steps of the Capitol, where they paused, heads down.
Many placed a hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them as Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., a Methodist minister, said a prayer.
Congress was not in session Monday and most of those participating were employees of congressional offices and others who work in the Capitol.
House business this week, including a contentious vote scheduled for Wednesday to repeal Obama’s new health care law, has been postponed to focus on any necessary actions in the shooting aftermath. Connecticut Rep. John Larson, who heads the House Democratic Caucus, said that lawmakers will continue to have open sessions with their constituents, although they are likely to take more precautions.
Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this story.