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Boehner: Bipartisan prayer service can be 'source of solace'

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • The service honors those killed and injured in the Arizona shooting
  • Members of Congress, spouses and some staffers attend
  • Boehner: The shootings were "an act of unspeakable violence"

Washington (CNN) -- Congress has responded to the Saturday shootings of 19 people, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, with a "collective embrace" rather than a "torrent of accusations," House Speaker John Boehner said at a bipartisan congressional prayer service Wednesday.

"Our nation mourns for the victims. It yearns for peace. And it thirsts for answers," the Ohio representative said in his welcome statement at the service, according to a transcript of his remarks. The service, held for members of Congress, their spouses and some staffers, was not open to the public.

The shootings in Tucson, Arizona, at a "Congress on Your Corner" event held by Giffords, killed six people. Six others remained hospitalized on Wednesday, including Giffords, who was in critical condition after being shot in the head. A 22-year-old suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, was arrested and is facing federal charges.

Boehner called the shootings "an act of unspeakable violence," according to the transcript. Among the dead, he noted, are Gabe Zimmerman, "a congressional staffer who took an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and died while well and faithfully discharging his duties." Two other Giffords staffers were wounded, he said.

"As our nation struggles to comprehend this act of savagery -- this fearful assault on all of our sacred responsibilities -- it

speaks well of our institution that its members have reacted not with a torrent of accusations hurled at each other, but courageously, with a collective embrace -- the embrace of brothers, sisters and countrymen," Boehner said.

"It is in that spirit that we assemble here today. Joining together in prayer can be a source of solace. It can also be a source of healing, strength and resolve."

Boehner said, "No assailant's bullet -- no twisted act of violence or cruelty, can silence the sacred dialogue of democracy. ... Let us now join together in prayer for the souls of the fallen, the recovery of the wounded and the healing of a nation."

Earlier, Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California both spoke on the House floor as representatives made comments about the shooting preceding a vote on a resolution condemning the rampage.

"Today is not a ceremony, but tragedy that stirs us to renew our commitment to faithfully fulfill our oath of office," Boehner said. "Let us not let this inhuman act frighten us into doing otherwise."

"It's especially tragic," Pelosi said, "that those who lost their lives and those who were wounded had come together, as the resolution presents, to participate in an activity that reflects the best of our democratic tradition -- a representative of the people, Gabby Giffords and her staff, hearing directly from the men and women she represents."

She added, "American democracy is founded on a commitment to a contest of ideas, not violence. Political disagreement and dissent must never violate our nation's values as expressed in the Constitution, of free expression, speech and peaceful assembly. Gabby spoke to that right here from the floor last week."

CNN's Deirdre Walsh contributed to this report.