President Barack Obama has flown to Arizona and headed straight to congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ bedside to pay his respects to the wounded politician as he sought to unify a mourning nation.
Mr Obama and the First Lady Michelle were visiting privately at University Medical Centre with Ms Giffords and other victims of the weekend shootings that killed six people and wounded 13.
He was then meeting with family members of those killed before speaking at a memorial service in Tucson.
“The President wanted to begin this solemn trip by stopping first at the hospital where Congresswoman Giffords and others continue to recuperate,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
Ms Giffords was the target of the first assassination attempt on a member of Congress in decades.
Searching for the right tone in the evening service, Mr Obama aimed to console the country, not dissect its politics.
A bipartisan delegation of politicians accompanied him on Air Force One in a sign of solidarity.
Back on Capitol Hill, Ms Giffords’ House colleagues praised her and the other shooting victims and insisted that violence would not silence democracy. “We will have the last word,” declared new House Speaker John Boehner. He fought back tears as he described Ms Giffords’ battle to recover from Saturday’s gunshot wound to her head.
The Arizona episode has sparked a broader debate, unfolding in the media for days, about whether the vitriol of current politics played a role. Mr Obama has long called for the importance of more civil political discourse, but he has made no comments on that in connection to this shooting, and he was not expected to choose the event as the forum to do so.
Police say the man accused of the shootings, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, shot Ms Giffords as well as many in the line of people waiting to talk with her. The attack ended when bystanders tackled the man. He is in jail on federal charges as police continue to investigate.