A sombre President Barack Obama urged Americans Monday to pray and reflect as the nation reeled from the horror of another mass killing.
"In the coming days, we're going to have a lot of time to reflect," Mr. Obama said in the Oval Office. "Right now, the main thing we're doing is to offer our thoughts and prayers" to the families of the six killed and 14 injured - including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who remained comatose in a Tucson hospital after miraculously surviving being shot through the head.
"How, out of this tragedy," the President asked, "can we come together as a stronger nation?"
A bell tolled three times as an estimated 300 White House staffers offered their respects. On the steps of the U.S. Capitol, congressional staff and other employees did the same. At the Supreme Court, the justices paused for a moment of silence.
While Mr. Obama called for calm and reflection, pundits and politicians were trading jibes over gun control and whether nasty and inflammatory campaign rhetoric and partisan fighting has so poisoned America's political landscape that toxicity is breeding extremist violence.
In Washington, the frigid city seemed unnaturally quiet. With the Senate in recess and the House of Representatives suspended for a week because of the shooting, the original Republican plan to use their new majority to repeal Mr. Obama's signature health-care reform was shelved - at least for a while.
In Tucson, Jared Loughner, 22, facing multiple charges of murder, attempted murder and trying to assassinate a member of Congress, made a brief court appearance.
"Mr. Loughner is a danger to the community," said Judge Lawrence Anderson, echoing the stark reality that stunned the nation last Saturday when - in less than a minute - a gunman turned Ms. Gifford's' "meet and greet" outside a supermarket into a nightmare of chaos, death and heroism.
Seeking some shred of goodness and inspiration from the slaughter, Mr. Obama spoke of "the extraordinary courage that was shown during the course of these events - a 20-year-old college student who ran into the line of fire to rescue his boss, a wounded woman who helped secure the ammunition that might have caused even more damage, the citizens who wrestled down the gunman."
"That speaks to [what]is the best of America, even in the face of such mindless violence," he said.
Mr. Obama will travel to Arizona on Wednesday to attend a memorial service for the victims, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.