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Details of the Tucson Shootings

Aired January 12, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone from the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. The president of the United States arrived here just moments ago. He will lead this stunned community and the nation tonight through a memorial service for the six victims killed in the weekend massacre here. We will have coverage of that event next hour and we can show you now a live picture inside the McKale arena where people started lining up early this morning so they could attend that event.

And amid all the sadness some encouraging news today, doctors today say the assassin's prime target, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is more and more responsive and they're encouraged about her prognosis. I visited her Tucson office today. There's a moving shrine outside where thousands of well wishers have come to pray, to leave notes and to light candles. In a few moments you will hear from an aide who was standing four feet from congresswoman, taking photographs, when the shooter quietly walked up beside her and opened fire.


SARA HUMMEL RAJCA, CONSTITUENT SERVICES, REP. GIFFORDS OFFICE: I remember it because, I mean, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that something was moving and I just remember seeing his arm go up. I remember seeing a very small gun in his hand. And I heard the first shot. Like I was watching the gun as it was shot. And then I just ran.


KING: Also tonight, Sarah Palin responds to critics who say a campaign web posting putting Congresswoman's Giffords district in the crosshairs -- you remember that from last campaign probably -- could have encouraged the violence and in doing so Palin's use of language that's offensive to Jews incites a new controversy.


SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF ALASKA: Journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: But we begin tonight with breaking news, new details into the investigation of this horrific shooting. Authorities here disclosed today that Jared Lee Loughner was stopped for running a red light the morning of the shooting. He was allowed to go though after being issued a warning because the officer found he had a valid license and he had no warrants against him.

Also law enforcement sources tell me tonight they are scouring Loughner's erratic postings on a number of websites as they try, try to better understand this suspect and his motives. And we learn today at least one piece of evidence is still missing, a black bag believed to have contained Loughner's nine millimeter pistol and ammunition clips when he left home that morning.

And we're told he left in a hurry because his father started asking questions about the bag and about his son's odd behavior. A bit earlier I interviewed one of the lead investigators, Bureau Chief Richard Kastigar, of the Pima County Sheriff Department and he shared new details of the suspect's behavior that morning and new details about what police later found in Loughner's Tucson home.


KING: Help me, to the degree you can, get a better understanding of what was taken from the house. We hear about a series of notes in the safe, including one that apparently had the words "die bitch" on it.

RICHARD KASTIGAR, BUREAU CHIEF, PIMA CO. SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Right. We did go into his home. And in his room, there was a locked box of some kind. And within that box was an envelope and a piece of paper and hand scrolled on those piece of paper were a few phrases. They were not conjoined necessarily.

And there was not really a sentence involved here. But the comments, die cop, die bitch, assassination plans have been made -- words to that effect. And that really, that's pretty much the extent of those things that were written on the paperwork.

KING: Have you been able to circle a rough date on a calendar, say at this point he decided he was going to try to kill her?

KASTIGAR: It would be reasonable for us to assume that they might be directed at her because one of the pieces of documents in there was actually the letter she wrote him thanking him for attending one of her events. And there were some comments written on the back of that.

KING: But you don't have a sense of when he decided he was going to try to assassinate the congresswoman?

KASTIGAR: Absolutely not. You know, there's been some speculation that law enforcement had some indicators out there that would cause us to take some action against this young man, to stop him from what he was doing, and that's completely untrue. I couldn't underscore that more. The events that led up to what happened Saturday, as they relate to law enforcement contact, really do not add up, in their totality, to anything that would cause a police officer to say this guy's going to go out there and shoot 20 people. There's nothing there.

KING: Prior to this event, what did you have, in what volume, if anything, of a file about Jared Lee Loughner?

KASTIGAR: We had very little, to be honest with you. There were some contacts with him as a young adult that deal with very minor occurrences or interaction with law enforcement. One example is minor under the influence, which is a law here in the state of Arizona. There's a drinking age limit. And if you're under that age, and even if you've consumed alcohol, it doesn't imply you're intoxicated or not. It just means you're underage drinking. There's a reference to a drug paraphernalia arrest. All of those were dismissed. And he was deferred by the courts to a diversionary program to deal with those.

KING: Pretty standard for --

KASTIGAR: Pretty standard for those types of --

KING: There have been some reports that on the morning of the shooting he ran from his father. That he was having some conversation with his father. He ran away perhaps with the backpack he then brought to the Safeway. Is that true?

KASTIGAR: Well, here's what transpired and this is what the father has told us. Sometime that morning, he saw his son out in the front part of the home with a black bag and some have described it as a backpack. I'm not sure. We don't have it, so we don't know really what it was. The father asked him questions to the -- similar to what are you doing, what is that.

And Jared mumbled something back to his dad. His dad said he didn't understand what was said. It was unintelligible. And then Jared left. The father followed. The father got in his vehicle and tried to locate his son and followed the direction that he went. And he could not locate his son. The father thought the son went into the desert some place.

KING: Are there any cooperation issues with the parents or are they fully cooperating?

KASTIGAR: To my knowledge, none whatsoever. You know this is a tragedy for them as well. And although most of us really, really, really sink our sympathy and our heart and soul and thoughts to those that were killed, those families and the victims themselves, but in my opinion I think the family of the suspect really are victims of this as well and it's really, you know, bad situations, bad things happen to good people. And there's nothing to indicate to us that these were bad folks.

KING: Do you have any doubt at this point in the investigation that he acted alone, just him?

KASTIGAR: We are -- we are positive he acted alone.

KING: What are you missing in terms of the evidence you need to recover to piece all this together?

KASTIGAR: Well, as we speak, there's an FBI team out at the shooting scene literally looking for and cataloging every piece of trace evidence that is minutely related to this case in a very broad environment. But to answer your question perhaps more simplistically, no, there's no other evidence that we're aware of.

We don't have this black bag. We don't know where it went. There was certainly a lapse of time between the point at which his dad lost sight of him with it and this young man showed up at 10:00 in the morning and decided to shoot 20 people.

KING: So but when he walked up and opened fire, he was carrying the gun and the clips in his --

KASTIGAR: He had them on his person.

KING: On his person --


KING: So the bag disappeared somewhere.

KASTIGAR: We don't know where the bag is.

KING: So you have notes that say, die cop, die bitch, the name Giffords written down --

KASTIGAR: I'm not aware --

KING: -- my assassination --

KASTIGAR: That's out there, but I'm not aware that the name Giffords is actually on one of those pieces of papers --

KING: You're not?

KASTIGAR: That's news to me.

KING: Have you seen the pieces of paper?

KASTIGAR: I'm telling you that one of the pieces of paper that was written on was a response to him from --

KING: From her office?

KASTIGAR: From Congresswoman Giffords, from her office, thanking him for an attendance at an event in 2007.

KING: Is die bitch written on that piece of paper?

KASTIGAR: I'm not going to talk about which piece of paper it was written on. KING: We know when he left Pima College, Pima Community that the school -- essentially he was having some behavior issues in the classroom and they said you need to get some mental health help and if you get that help come back and show us that you've received it and we'll talk about having you back in the class. Have you -- investigators in the conversations with the parents or others determined whether he actually ever got into the mental health care system at all?

KASTIGAR: I'm not aware of -- I'm aware certainly of Pima College's reports and what they suggested to this young man. I'm not aware of any other entity or family member or anybody else telling us that that was a necessity, was -- or occurred. So to answer that more directly, we're not aware of a mental health history with him at all.

KING: And so when there are people out there who would say, so he had a problem at the school, he had a problem at some employers, this kid fell through the cracks and he needed help but he didn't get it. Is there anything that you have seen where you would circle it and say that's where he should have been grabbed and forced into it?

KASTIGAR: No and actually if I can maybe underscore that point. There was an absence of any of that to the interaction that he had with law enforcement. I can only speak for law enforcement and our investigation and what we've looked at. There's an absence of anything alarming that said, uh-oh, we should be reacting to this and we didn't. Whatever that law enforcement entity or agency is, that does not exist in the history that we've discovered so far.

KING: Do you have any -- is there any evidence that helps you get a better understanding of why, why he decided he wanted to kill the congresswoman?

KASTIGAR: We're all asking why. This whole country is asking why. Nobody can put their mind around an irrational act and a horrific act like this that occurred Saturday. There are still two victims of this crime that we have not been able to get their perspective yet simply because of their medical condition and one of them is Representative Giffords and so you know there's still some work to be done.

But we've heard this phrase before but it's so true. This is not a who done it. This is not a really difficult criminal case to investigate. It's very clear all the perspectives, and there was dozens of them, of the event, that watched what happened, as it happened. And although they might have a slightly different view, very -- all of those stories come together in a big story and they're consistent. So we know what happened. We don't know the why. But we know the what.


KING: Also today, investigators release some new detail of Loughner's previous scrapes with the law, old complaints about parking and vandalism, a 2006 hospitalization for alcohol poisoning after he showed up drunk in high school and a 2007 citation for possession of drug paraphernalia. A lot more ahead tonight, including this -- we know President Obama just moments ago met the wounded congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. He was at the hospital nearby.

He met for about nine minutes with Congresswoman Giffords and her astronaut husband. He also visited two Giffords aides who are hospitalized and some of the others still hospitalized after the Saturday massacre. Next hour, the president of course will lead the memorial service in the McKale Auditorium behind you. We can show you a live picture of the room inside as the president leads this community and the nation asking for more tolerance and a moment of reflection.

And when we come back, we come back, we will learn about one of the slain aides, a 30-year-old man who served Congresswoman Giffords from a woman who knew him well and who was standing right there when the shooter walked up and opened fire.


KING: Congresswoman Giffords was the assassin's prime target, but in Saturday's rampage 20 people in all were shot, six of them fatally. Those slain include a federal judge in his 60's and a 9- year-old girl who was born on 9/11 and wanted to get a peek at a political event. During his remarks here next hour, we're told the president will pay personal tribute to each of those killed.

Also among the victims, 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to Congresswoman Giffords, here he is posing alongside the Declaration of Independence. The woman who took that photo, we talked to her today, the colleague who took that photo and she was also snapping photos Saturday morning when the shots rang out. Sara Hummel Rajca has vivid memories of her slain friend Gabe and of that horrific morning.


RAJCA: We used to refer to him in the office as Prince Charming. We could have the most angry constituent come in completely distraught over some kind of issue they've had with the federal government, and Gabe would go into the lobby and by the end they're telling jokes. And I mean he just had a way with words and he had an amazing way with people. There was one intern in the office.

We got some, as you can imagine, some quite angry callers during the health care reform votes that were taking place. And one caller called and was very mean to one of our interns who just happened to pick up the phone and we referred the call to Gabe and in the end the caller ended up asking for the intern back so she could apologize because she felt so bad for being so mean to the poor intern in our office.

KING: What was his secret to be Prince Charming?

RAJCA: He loved -- I think he just loved everyone. I think he saw the good in everyone, and he really believed in the people of southern Arizona, and that they were a part of the United States of America and that this is what made up our great country. I think you know he talked about wanting to be a part of politics. But he had a social work degree and so he really just believed that the people could come together and that by helping people we were helping better our country.

KING: And you mentioned he did constituent services, which was the whole goal of Saturday morning --

RAJCA: Definitely.

KING: -- to reach out --

RAJCA: Definitely.

KING: -- to people in the community. You were there. What was he doing that morning?

RAJCA: He had asked me to help set up and then I also did photography that day and he arrived first, of course, with all of our supplies. And I arrived shortly after and so did Pam Simon (ph), another one of our staff members who was injured that day and we just started setting up. And you know we kind of joked around. He's getting married next April and -- or a year from April and we were joking around and I keep bugging him because I'm already married and I love weddings and so I kept bugging him, like you got to set the date, you got to set date, and he kept assuring me that it was coming and --

KING: And so laughing and joking and playing around like you always do.

RAJCA: Uh-huh, yes, yes --

KING: And then what?

RAJCA: And then at 10:00 the congresswoman arrived and our district director, Ron Barber (ph) and separately -- they drove separately that day and -- but they both arrived at 10:00 and the congresswoman hugged me and then started talking to the constituents and then got in her position, which is always in front of the two flags and started speaking with constituents.

KING: And where was Gabe and did he encounter Loughner there?

RAJCA: I don't believe so because the congresswoman was speaking with constituents. She spoke with one gentleman who -- and I took her picture with him and then I was right in front of her taking photos that day with constituents and then she was speaking to a couple when it happened. And I kind of remember where everyone was placed that day.

And Gabe was further down the line. He was -- and I found out yesterday after speaking with a couple that he was actually talking to a couple further down the line. So I think -- and just assuming his back was turned and then I heard from Danielle that when someone shouted gun, Danielle and Gabe both turned and started running towards the gun. Danielle was able to make it to the congresswoman but Gabe obviously wasn't. KING: Running towards the gun though, coming to protect the congresswoman, you think?

RAJCA: I think so because -- I wouldn't put it past Gabe to do something like that, but because -- I know that he was further down the line because he wasn't in my line of sight when I was shooting photos and from where I saw his body afterwards, it was right by the congresswoman.

KING: When did you first see the shooter?

RAJCA: He actually approached our table before -- before the shooting. I was standing -- there was a table separating me from the congresswoman and I was taking pictures across the table. But behind the table, next to the congresswoman was another intern who was kind of greeting people as they came up to find out what was going on. And we had some materials on the table and so the intern standing there, the shooter came up to the table and said is Giffords here?

And Alex, our intern, said yes and pointed to the line and said you have to wait in line and he started to say thank you for coming and the man started walking away and I was like -- and I was that was kind of rude, but I mean we've seen a lot of different people so he walked away and got in line. And then a few minutes passed. And I didn't see him come behind me, but he stood right next to me and raised his arm and pointed the gun at the congresswoman. And I heard the first shot and then I ran to the left.

KING: So he was as close to you as I am to you?

RAJCA: Yes, he was right here, yes.

KING: What do you remember?

RAJCA: I just remember -- I remember it because, I mean, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that something was moving and I just remember seeing his arm go up. I remember seeing a very small gun in his hand. And I heard the first shot like I was watching the gun as it was shot. And then I just ran. I ran to my left and he didn't shoot after me. And I ran and hid behind my car which was really close. Jumped in my car and found my phone and called 911 and then I saw that they had -- the person on the 911 call had asked me is he contained and I looked and I saw that, in fact, some people had tackled him, yes.

KING: Were you taking photos right up until the shot?

RAJCA: Yes, I had taken a few of the congresswoman with the first gentleman, who was a veteran and then the couple I'd just taken some candid photos of her and them --

KING: I'm guessing the police took all that.


KING: Is Giffords here -- is that all you heard him say when he walked up to the table the first time?


KING: Didn't hear anything else from him there?

RAJCA: No, he didn't say anything else and he didn't say anything when he came up to shoot, no.

KING: Just walked up and --

RAJCA: And raised his arm.

KING: You're getting all choked up now but you're remarkably put together for somebody who was standing right there, who lost your friend. How are you -- how have you dealt with the last four or five days?

RAJCA: I think just knowing, you know, Congresswoman Giffords and Gabe Zimmerman would have both wanted to keep the office open. They'd want to take, you know, what the constituents and what the community has to say about them. And they'd want us to keep the office open. We're a very close family.

Our office here is very small. We're only 10 people in the office. And I used to work in an office of, you know, 60 people, and I was close with some people there, but here it's really -- I used to joke that I can't believe people here, you know, we all want to hang out with each other after work because we just like each other so much and we know each other's families. We're really close.


KING: A remarkable young woman. It was chilling to hear her account -- just a remarkable, remarkable young woman. We should tell you that as we wait for the memorial service tonight in the auditorium behind me, the president of the United States at the moment is meeting with 13 family members of the six people who were killed on Saturday, inside that building. With him, Senator John McCain and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, as well as other members of the administration, the president meeting with families of the fallen, the memorial service next hour.

When we come back, this is a day for solid tribute. However, there also is political controversy as Sarah Palin responds to her critics and sparks a new uproar.


KING: Tonight is a night of tribute and reflection. This is the program "Together We Thrive Tucson" (ph) is the title of the program for the memorial service tonight. But there's also new political controversy. Sarah Palin chose today to respond to critics who suggests this image from last year's campaign, Congresswoman Giffords' district right here, is among the 20 in the rifle crosshairs could have in some way encouraged the shooter. In a video posted on her Facebook page, the former Alaska governor condemned efforts to connect statements by her or others to last weekend's shootings.


PALIN: But especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.


KING: Well, tonight there's a new controversy over Palin's use of the term "blood libel". It refers to a century's old myth that Jews killed Christian children and drank their blood and has been invoked throughout history as a pretext for violence against Jews. A statement today from the Anti-Defamation League says even though it's inappropriate to blame Sarah Palin and others for the Tucson tragedy, quote, "we wish that Palin had used another phrase, instead of one so fraught with pain in Jewish history."

With us tonight to discuss this from New Orleans Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor James Carville, and in Atlanta, CNN contributor Erick Erickson, editor-in-chief of the conservative blog Erick, let me ask you first, Sarah Palin obviously wanted to respond to her critics. There are some asking not only did she use -- why did she use that term, "blood libel", but why did she do it today on a day when the president and others are gathering for this memorial service?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know for a week, we've had people blame Sarah Palin for this death. Not Jared Loughner, but Sarah Palin for this tragedy. For a week, they've attacked her for saying nothing about the tragedy. So today she says something and they're attacking her again for the use of "blood libel".

When they start attacking Frank Rich from "The New York Times", Andrew Sullivan from "The Atlantic", The Associated Press, "The Boston Globe", CBS News and others who in the past two years have used that phrase and other meanings, then I'll probably take them seriously. This is akin to attacking James and me for using the word trinity when we make our gumbo with our celery, onions and bell pepper.

KING: James, what do you make of this? Governor Palin has a point in the sense that we can all criticize people's actions during the campaign. The images they use, but for some who said you know she is responsible, that is over the line, right?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Of course it's over the line. Sarah Palin never lived this guy would have done that. Having said that, the targets, thing that she put out when you saw it after that you just kind of flinch. I wish her well. I hope she's the Republican nominee so I don't want her damaged. But and you know "blood libel" was all over the right wing before that.

Some of the speechwriters probably picked it up from "The Wall Street Journal" or from Andrew Breitbart or any number of places. Pat Buchanan thought it was a nifty term, so I don't think she knew what she was saying. She's always one -- always gives her great leeway. And anytime she would invoke the defense of stupidity, we would believe that instantly.

So I don't think she meant anything anti-Semitic by it. And I don't think that she had anything to do with it. I've said on this program (INAUDIBLE) CNN there's anything to link this thing to politics except evidence. There's no evidence that links -- this guy is just nutty. He would have been nutty if it had never been for cable TV or talk radio or anything else.

ERICKSON: You know John --


ERICKSON: -- there's a report out on the wires --


KING: Go ahead Erick. Go ahead.

ERICKSON: There's a report out on the wires this evening that's coming over from ABC News that she's having to up the amount of security around her this week. I have no doubt that there are crazy people out there who unlike Jared Loughner are persuaded by politics and probably do want to do her harm. And I'm really wondering about the people who have this week been blaming Sarah Palin for this. Are they going to take blame if something were to happen to her? I would hope not because I wouldn't think they'd be responsible. But it seems like the ridiculousness of the blame game this week has gone to absurd proportions on this, when we have six people dead, including a nine- year-old girl, and people seem much more interested in talk about the blame than remembering and honoring the victims.

KING: Amen on the last point --


CARVILLE: That's right. Politics had nothing to do with this, this is a nutty guy.

KING: Let me ask you, James, as someone who has advised presidents, what is it that you would like to hear from our president next hour at this memorial service?

CARVILLE: Well, I mean, to talk about the people who lost their lives there and to talk about Gabrielle Giffords who has apparently going to live. I don't know, I hope the prognosis sounds good. One hopes for that.

Actually, I'll say something. I feel sorry for this guy's parents. These people, you know, it must be a horrible thing, you know, all the way around. And I think, you know, this was different in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City was clearly -- this guy had a political agenda. This is just a person that just -- an awful tragedy. And my heart goes out to all of the people who were killed and the family of the people who were killed and injured in this. I think the president can strike that note.

I just don't think this is much about politics. Maybe we need to get something in our system, mental health system, where somebody could have gotten to this guy earlier. That's a legitimate sort of thing to discuss.

KING: James and Erick, appreciate your time tonight. Let's end this segment agreeing on that point. This night, at least rest of this night will not be about politics.

When we come back, we sit down with the mayor of Tucson and two other residents of the city. All week long as we've been here, we've tried to reach people in this community to ask them about this tragedy. In a moment, what tonight means for the City of Tucson.


KING: Tucson has grown over the years from a small town into a city of more than a half million people. We went yesterday to the landmark Hotel Congress, there, had a fabulous conversation with some local residents about what this means. So we went back this morning and we found the mayor sitting there. We also found two people we had never met before. And in conversations with them we find out one volunteered in the Giffords campaign. One knew Gabe Zimmerman, one of her staffer who was killed, went to high school with him. We sat down with the mayor and those two residents this morning to ask them what tonight meant, what they wanted to hear from the president of the United States.


KING: Let me just ask you how important this day is. I'll start with you, Mr. Mayor, to the city. The president of the United States is coming. Asking everybody to pause and reflect. How important is the day and what do you need to hear from the president?

MAYOR BOB WALKUP, (R) TUCSON: He'll help us in the healing process. I know he knows that Tucson is a great community. One of the things that today is all about, is the healing process, praying for those that are still in the healing process, remembering those that have lost their lives. But it's also making the transition to tomorrow and getting back to as normal a life as we can.

KING: As normal a life as we can. Define that. How has life in this city changed because of this? And can the president help in some way?

DAGMAR CUSHING, TUCSON RESIDENT: Well, I'm sure he can. Life in the city's always been sort of neighborly, I would say. Although it's a pretty big city and it's grown a lot. But there's still sort of the neighborly feeling, small town feeling. And people are coming together. I think it shook everyone up. It's really meaningful that the president is coming.

IAN PHILABAUM, TUCSON RESIDENT: We've always been a neighborly community, as big as we have grown to be, and we seem to have lost a little bit of that in recent years. I think it's time that we actually come together and reflect, as individuals, a families, as community, as a city, on how we can get back to that point where we'd like to see ourselves.

KING: The sheriff here has been criticized for coming right out of the box and saying vitriolic politics could have contributed to this environment. Do you believe that?

WALKUP: I am still in the process of getting some of our people out of the hospital. I think that debate will go on for quite sometime, but not until we get everybody out of the hospital. That we know Congresswoman Giffords is going to make it, and now we're very confident that she is going to make it and she gets into the healing process. But that debate is something I'm not going to participate on. Until I'm sure all of my people are out of the hospital. That's what I'm focusing on.

CUSHING: I 100 percent agree with it. I was very proud of our sheriff. He spoke from the heart. And I send him a thank you note. I think it's -- I've seen that happen over the years. No one can say for sure whether it contributed or not. But that's my gut feeling also. I agree with him.

PHILABAUM: This is a conversation that is obviously of the utmost importance right now. During this healing process, as we move forward, if we actually want to be and continue to be a functional civilized society. And certain conversations have become just inflammatory to a point where you could understand where misinterpretations can lead to just confrontational points, that can be this violent and ugly.

KING: Do you have particular conversations in mind when you say certain conversations?

PHILABAUM: No, I don't really want to nitpick. I don't want to lead to that further conversation that could -- that could be more ugliness. I just would like to focus more -- and this falls on myself, too. I'm guilty just as-I think we all are, in having these inflammatory, negative conversations, focusing on really what could be a step backwards instead of a step forward. And I think it is time to focus on that step forward.

KING: One of the people involved in this debate is Sarah Palin. Because this district was mentioned in one of her Web postings. She did a Web posting this morning where she said those who are somehow trying to connect her to this are guilty of blood libel, and that is reprehensible conduct. Is she right?

CUSHING: Are you asking me?

KING: Yes.

CUSHING: Well, I think the word "blood libel" is a good example right there of, you know, why use a word like that, in a situation that we have right now? It's not a conciliatory word. What went on before, who knows. But I do have a background in mental health. And I do know that people who are unbalanced sometimes get influenced by very strong language, very strong things. So I don't think that's a good word.


KING: When we come back, more of our special coverage. The president speaks in the auditorium behind me. The memorial service starts at the tope of the hour. We'll have live special coverage throughout. We'll continue to reflect on the pain in this community. You see the crowd gathering there. There's the mayor, other VIPs in the room. Inside, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in the pictures there. When we come back, we reflect on the pain in this community and the special event just ahead.




KING: A live picture there of the McKale Center at the University of Arizona. You see the crowd gathering. We're just moments away from the top of the hour. Governor Jan Brewer in the center of your picture there, in the blue jacket. A few minutes away from the top of the hour at a memorial service on this campus, to the six people killed, the 14 people wounded in the senseless massacre that happened here this past weekend.

The president of the United States is in that building as well. He met a bit earlier with family members of the fallen. Before that, he was at the hospital where he visited Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. She is still in intensive care, obviously. Her brain injuries, though, her doctors are more and more optimistic.

The president also spoke to several of the other victims; the wounded, who are at the hospital recovering. It is a moment of tribute and reflection. Sadness, a bit of celebration in this community today at the unity of recent days. On that point I want to bring into the conversation or National Political Correspondent Jessica Yellin.

It has been remarkable, as we have been here. People are sad. They are still stunned. I met with an eyewitness today who was right there when the congresswoman was shot. She's still in shock clearly. And yet she comes to work because she says the congresswoman would have wanted her to be there for the constituents. She will be here tonight to honor her friend Gabe Zimmerman, among those who was gunned down. It is a remarkable moment.


You know, I've talked to a lot of people who have shown up today. They started lining up at 5:30 in the morning. The one thing that struck me so much is how many people are coming with little kids. Kids who they say have asked questions since this happened, trying to understand it, especially because a nine-year-old girl was involved. The parents are saying they've watched all the horrifying stuff and they wanted to bring the kids for a moment of healing, and to hear the president. And they're really -- I'm touched that the president has come. It's sort of like, well, of course -- they're so touched and pleased. And really feel that this is a moment-I know it sounds corny-but for some kind of closure for them, a little.

KING: It's interesting because this is a city now, Tucson, of more than half a million people. The university is the biggest thing in town. It used to be a much smaller town. Yet you walk into places and people say, I met the congresswoman so many times. I knew the judge. I knew Gabe Zimmerman, the guy who will be honored tonight, the 30-year-old staffer. Ran into a guy who said, I went to high school with him. It has a small town feel, which I think is one of the reasons people are, A, so touched by it and, B, have come together.

YELLIN: Yes, it is a very big little town, little city. They truly -- everybody says, I was one of Gabby's closest friends, am one of her closest friends. I can't tell you how many have told me that. And also say-you know, some people come up to me and say, I want you to know Tucson's a really nice place. And they feel awful that the whole world is looking at this for this tragedy. And they want to show everybody how wonderful the town can be. And they're hoping for that tonight.

KING: Jess is going to stay with us as we prepare for our special coverage of this solemn event, "Together We Thrive", it is called. Here is the program. The president will speak, of course. Other VIPs will speak. This night, this night, is in honor of six people gunned down in a senseless act of violence.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of us are still grieving and in shock from the tragedy that took place.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tragedy and terror sometimes comes from the shadows, and steal our joy, and take away our peace.



KING: Live pictures, there, of the McKale Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The crowd gathering for a solemn memorial service. You see the Democratic leader of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, the FBI Director Bob Mueller, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. There are VIPs and there are also everyday citizens from this hurt, shocked, and saddened city of Tucson. A memorial service begins at the top of the hour for the six people killed in the senseless shooting rampage on Saturday.

The president of the United States will be part of the ceremony. Here's the program for it right here, "Together We Thrive". Our special coverage on CNN will continue throughout this live event. Here, I just want to show you, before I bring in my colleague, Wolf Blitzer, this about sums it up. The front page of today's "Arizona Star": "City Starts Its Sad Farewells".

My colleague Wolf Blitzer is with me for this special programming.