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Capitol Hill Ponders Tucson Shootings

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Tucson shootings have also had a powerful impact here in Washington, D.C. Congresswoman Giffords is well-known and well-liked by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. And the death of her staff member has been a blow to all those who work on Capitol Hill.

At the Capitol, congressional staffers and visitors are remembering those who died and offering their support to those who were wounded.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: It started in the morning. Tourists began leaving flowers at the base of the marble steps that lead to the Capitol Rotunda. In the bitter cold, they came to pay tribute to the victims of the Tucson shooting.

Mr. SALVADOR MARISCAL: Well, it affects all of us. Violence anywhere in the world affects everybody.

SEABROOK: Salvador and Virginia Mariscal are wrapped tight in their coats but still shiver. They're from San Diego and they were surprised to see so much security around the Capitol - police armed with assault rifles.

Ms. VIRGINIA MARISCAL: And with this incident, we can see why they have so much security. We see why and we agree.

SEABROOK: A young couple strolls up the walk around the Capitol building, taking in the view of classical stone buildings. Marie Senyay is from Puerto Rico.

Ms. MARIE SENYAY: All of these buildings have flags at half-mast and I know why. So every time I walk by one of them, the thought comes back into my head.

SEABROOK: Her companion, Sam Chereskin, is left wondering.

Mr. SAM CHERESKIN: How many times do you have to see death to start actually wondering and caring about life? I don't know. Why? Why?

SEABROOK: Inside one of the congressional office buildings, a small table sits in the center of a large white marble rotunda. On it are two guest books - one for well wishes for the survivors of the attack and one for condolences. Theresa Cuomo Smith has brought her three children here. They're visiting from Malone, New York.

Ms. THERESA CUOMO SMITH: Today we were able to sign the condolence book. I said that I hope that the Lord Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, would bring peace to the victims' families, to our country, and to our world.

SEABROOK: Teresa's daughter Blanche is a college student.

Ms. BLANCHE CUOMO SMITH: I wrote that Jesus may wipe every tear away.

SEABROOK: Then the oldest son...

Mr. SILAS CUOMO SMITH: I'm Silas. I'm 11. And I'm sad about what happened and I wrote that God would comfort the families of the victims.

SEABROOK: And the youngest, Isaac, who didn't write in the book...

Mr. ISAAC CUOMO SMITH: But I did pray that they would be comforted.

SEABROOK: Upstairs from the rotunda is a large meeting room where the House and Senate chaplains and a prominent Washington rabbi held an interfaith service. Jon Lane, a former intern, attended.

Mr. JONATHAN LANE: It was just a really peaceful service, an opportunity to reflect. But it also reflected particularly on the experiences of congressional staff.

SEABROOK: Lane says people outside of Washington may underestimate the role of a congressional staffer.

Mr. LANE: I mean, anyone who spent any amount of time, whether on the Hill or in a district office, you know, is there side-by-side with the representative serving the constituents and helping them improve their lives and deal with the government.

SEABROOK: Take Sheldon Harris. When he was just out of school, he worked with a few other people on the staff of the House Rules Committee. And Harris stayed for a decade.

Mr. SHELDON HARRIS (Attorney/Lobbyist): We all stayed on, you know, for years and years in these jobs where, you know, the days were unbelievably long and the pay was nothing what you could make in the private sector, 'cause you really believed you were making it a better place, this country.

SEABROOK: Today, Harris is an attorney and a lobbyist, but he came back to the Capitol for the service to be with other congressional staffers and remember the staffer who died in Saturday's attack, 30-year-old Gabe Zimmerman.

Mr. HARRIS: To see what happened and how angry our country has gotten is just heartbreaking, just heartbreaking.

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Tomorrow, President Obama will pay tribute to the victims of that shooting. He'll be in Tucson, speaking at a memorial service for the victims, and as he does, to the nation as well.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Seabrook covers Capitol Hill as NPR's Congressional Correspondent.