WASHINGTON - A somber President Barack Obama led a moment of silence on Monday for a nation stunned by an attempted assassination against an Arizona congresswoman that left her gravely wounded, several other injured and six people dead.
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 11 a.m. EST. Wearing overcoats, they stood next to each other on the South Lawn, each with their hands clasped, heads bowed and eyes closed.
After a minute of silence, they walked inside, the president's hand on the first lady's back.
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. In total, 19 people were shot in the shooting rampage in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday. Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot point-blank in the head, and she remains in intensive care. 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 Obama had not made plans to go to Arizona, but did not rule out that he would, as the president monitored developments closely.
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.
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.
House Speaker John Boehner told lawmakers in a conference call Sunday to "pull together as an institution."
"What is critical is that we stand together at this dark time as one body," he said. "We need to rally around our wounded colleague, the families of the fallen and the people of Arizona's 8th District. And, frankly, we need to rally around each other."
Giffords, a Democrat, represents Arizona's 8th District.
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.
Giffords' orbiting brother-in-law, astronaut Scott Kelly, called for a moment of silence aboard the International Space Station and at all the flight control centers around the world.