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Mourners Exhale After Tucson Memorial Service

TED ROBBINS: This is Ted Robbins. If that was the most moving moment of the memorial, this, for the crowd, was the most thrilling.

BARACK OBAMA: Her husband Mark is here and he allows me to share this with you. Right after we went to visit, a few minutes after we left her room and some of her colleagues from Congress were in the room, Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OBAMA: Gabby opened her eyes for the first time.

ROBBINS: She opened her eyes and tried to focus. Her husband, Mark, asked her to give a thumbs up if she could see. Instead, Gabrielle Giffords raised her entire arm.

Her long-time campaign chairman, Michael McNulty, was overwhelmed by the news.

MICHAEL MCNULTY: We all were so worried that she wasn't going to make it last weekend, that there's little glimmers of hope that happen day after day after day, it's sort of biblical. It's just amazing to see her come back.

ROBBINS: Another of Giffords' aides, Mark Kimble, said the president's visit itself eased some pain.

MARK KIMBLE: It's very difficult to keep doing this, to keep working day after day, but he really, I thought, inspired us and comforted us a tremendous amount.

ROBBINS: The city of Tucson has been haunted by last Saturday's events. Last night, one man in the audience knew firsthand what it's like to keep going after coming face to face with a killer. Roger Sulzgeber is one of three people who tackled the accused gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, and kept him from firing again. Sulzgeber says this is the first time he's told his story publicly.

ROGER SULZGEBER: I had my knee on that artery that runs down behind your ear to your shoulder, and I had his arm twisted behind my - his back. And I'd never been that close to killing someone, but I didn't.

ROBBINS: And for Sulzgeber, the memorial service was a way to lift some darkness from that memory.

SULZGEBER: This whole thing here was kind of the flipside of that to me, which was really a good thing.

ROBBINS: The hugs and the tears seemed to lift everyone's mood, and especially the president's talk of healing and civility. Bob Wallace teaches philosophy at the University of Arizona. Cathy Coosminoff(ph) is his wife.

CATHY COOSMINOFF: He inspired us to respectfully disagree.

BOB WALLACE: Widen the circle of concern, he said.

KUZMANOFF: Yeah.

WALLACE: Absolutely right.

KUZMANOFF: It was wonderful.

WALLACE: Everybody counts.

ROBBINS: The University of Arizona's McKale Center Arena was filled. Thousands more sat in the cold in the football stadium and watched the ceremony on a big screen TV.

I caught Britney Galati walking home with two friends. She's a student at the university.

BRITNEY GALATI: After watching that, I really feel that, you know, the message was sent out to everyone and everyone seemed to support it.

ROBBINS: It's true, many of those who went to the memorial were Obama supporters, but Republicans and independents as well as Democrats seemed to embrace the president's message last night. Now, says Tucson's mayor, Republican Bob Walkup, the challenge is to act on the sentiment.

BOB WALKUP: How do we get everybody to come together and start making good things happen, is really the speech that he was giving us. And as I walk around and talk to people, they're waiting for - they're waiting for us to...

ROBBINS: As leaders?

WALKUP: As leaders, to figure out what is the next thing we're going to do.

ROBBINS: Walkup suggested mayors across the country could get together, organize, and promote civility in their cities. It's a start, he said.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As supervising editor for Arts and Culture at NPR based at NPR West in Culver City, Ted Robbins plans coverage across NPR shows and online, focusing on TV at a time when there's never been so much content. He thinks "arts and culture" encompasses a lot of human creativity — from traditional museum offerings to popular culture, and out-of-the-way people and events.