Last Tuesday, I had the honor of presiding over the United States House of Representatives during a voting series. In the middle of the vote, Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Colorado asked to speak out of order, and I recognized him. He asked for a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims of the recent Aurora, Colorado shooting, and a typically noisy chamber became “pin-drop” silent as we paid our respects.
Coincidentally, two days later, I was back in the chair during a morning debate on a Concurrent Resolution, the House’s official expression of condolences for those killed and wounded, and acknowledgement of the terrific heroism displayed during the tragedy.
Having served twelve years as Mayor of the city in northwest Arkansas, I was reminded of how personal these tragedies can be.
One by one, members of the Colorado delegation rose to speak.
Mike Coffman, of the sixth district, noted that Aurora would rise from the tragedy and quoted the famous Christian song based on Psalm 91, On Eagle’s Wings.
Jared Polis, second district, provided a grim reminder that if such an incident could happen in Aurora, “it could happen anywhere.”
Scott Tipton, third district, detailed individual accounts that illustrated the “worst” and “best” of society — and how it “speaks to the heart of America.”
Cory Gardner, fourth district, in reminding colleagues of the tremendous beauty of the state of Colorado, said that sometimes, what’s “in the hearts of some don’t match that beauty.”
Diana DeGette, first district, recounted the twenty-five moments of silence for victims of gun violence since the Columbine shooting in 1999. She challenged the leaders of the state and nation “to go on from today and to say what can we seriously do as a nation to make sure that no tragedy of this scope or horror ever happens in this country again.”
Doug Lamborn, fifth district, choked the House chamber with emotion as he detailed the account of Caleb Medley, 23, of Florence, Colorado, who was shot in the face and lies in a medically-induced coma in a local hospital. Caleb and his pregnant wife, Katie, had attended the movie that evening, just days before her expected delivery.
As Rep. Lamborn recounted, “then evil struck.” Moments after the shooting, Caleb was fighting for his life, while his newborn son, Hugo, entered the world in the same hospital, a few floors above.
Both Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer joined their colleagues in the tribute.
I’ve only been in Congress for 19 months. But, shootings that critically injured a colleague, Gabby Giffords in Tuscon, Arizona, and the most recent in Aurora, Colorado, have a way of “hitting home” unlike anything I’ve experienced.
To preside over the U.S. House of Representatives is a great honor. To preside during a time when Congress is in total agreement – as rare as it is – is a special feeling.
Aurora, Colorado, will never be the same — and that is sad. But if the resilience of the community in the aftermath of the shooting is any indication, it is clear to me that over time, the memory of the tragedy, as horrific as it was, will bind its citizens unlike anything it has ever experienced. That is good.
To my colleagues in Colorado and the great people of Aurora, it is my hope and prayer, in the words of the song referenced by Rep. Coffman, that God will hold you in the palm of His Hand.