Some were seated on sidewalks for hours, hoping to secure a seat in McKale Center and see the president in person.
Others filed into neighboring Arizona Stadium to watch him on the jumbo-sized screen.
And still others were satisfied to simply get a glimpse of the motorcade that zipped through the Old Pueblo carrying the commander in chief.
On the day that President Obama visited Tucson, thousands of people turned out to welcome him.
Along Golf Links Road, people cheered and waved flags as Air Force One touched down at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base on Wednesday afternoon.
"A lot of people have broken hearts right now. Hopefully, President Obama coming here will help," said Elise Lucero of Tucson as she perched atop a rock and prepared to snap photos of the motorcade.
Don Roth, also of Tucson, said, "I'm not into politics, but I wanted to be here today when the president arrived. Now it's just about life."
Upon his arrival at Davis-Monthan, President Obama was greeted by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup, D-M wing commander Col. John Cherrey and other local officials lined up to shake hands with the president and first lady as they descended from the aircraft.
The presidential limousine was waiting at the bottom of the steps but before getting in, the president and first lady Michelle Obama strode over to a nearby group of about 50 D-M airmen and military family members, who cheered as the couple approached.
The president and first lady spent about five minutes chatting, shaking hands and posing for snapshots with the troops before the motorcade departed for University Medical Center to see Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and other victims of Saturday's shooting rampage.
The tone at the University of Arizona was surprisingly calm considering the long waits people experienced and multiple moving of lines by police who were trying to keep the crowd from spilling out in the streets and blocking traffic.
Police officers on foot and in helicopters monitored the growing crowd throughout the day.
After standing in line for nearly 20 hours, Maria Flores was told that she, her husband and two children would have to move into another line.
"She staked out the place, I brought her food, and now we can't claim our original spot in line," said her husband, Javier Gradillas.
Despite the inconvenience, Gradillas said it was worth it.
"This happened in our own backyard and it's something you'd never think would happen," Gradillas said. "Innocent human beings lost their lives and what we need is unity."
Unity was evident on the UA Mall earlier in the day as people gathered to scribble messages for the creation of a "chain of expression" that was displayed during the memorial.
"I wanted to show solidarity and support with the rest of the Tucson community, for Congresswoman Giffords and all of the other families," said Linda Shaw, a department head in the College of Education who picked up her two children from school in hopes of seeing President Obama.
Her 14-year-old son Andre's message on the chain of expression read "Stay strong and you will get over this horrible tragedy."
After the president's speech, people were buzzing with excitement.
"He was really there for Tucson. I'm proud that he came," said Edgar Sandoval, 18, a Pima Community College student.
He said the part about helping each other and finding common ground instead of blaming others really resonated with him.
"The fact that he focused on the victims and made it about their lives and the good things they did for this community was great," said Kaitlyin Simpson, a senior in communications. "He put a positive light in Tucson in a time of need."
Tamina Muhammed brought her three sons to McKale to honor Judge John Roll, who was killed in the shooting. The judge presided over her husband's citizenship ceremony.
Earlier, she had taken her boys, Amir, 12 Fahim, 8 and Soufin, 5 to the memorial outside UMC.
"Having them see the sad part," she said, "I wanted them to see that good could come out of it, too."
President Obama's speech brought tears to the eyes of many watching at Arizona Stadium, including Lisa Carder, who brought her 9-year-old daughter, Noel, and 2-year-old son, Dalton.
"I like the way he spoke very personally about the victims," said Carder, wiping away tears.
Curt Ench and Mary Alexander said the entire event was special, even standing in line where there was a sense of hope and camaraderie. And the speech delivered what the community needed.
"You can't give a speech like that if you don't believe what you are saying," Ench said. "It was truly American healing."
Star reporters Carol Ann Alaimo and Doug Kreutz contributed to this story.