President Obama arrived in Aurora, Colorado on Sunday to meet with victims of one of the country’s worst mass shootings, telling the community he was coming as “a father and as a husband” and that the entire nation had them in their thoughts and prayers.
Obama met with survivors and those who lost loved ones during a visit to the University of Colorado Hospital at Aurora, after which he delivered brief remarks.
“When you have an opportunity to visit with families who have lost their loved ones, as I described to them, I come to them not so much as president, as I do as a father and as a husband,” Obama said.
“I confessed to them that words are always inadequate in these kinds of situations, but that my main task was to serve as a representative of the entire country and let them know that we are thinking about them at this moment and will continue to think about them each and every day,” he added.
At his arrival earlier in the afternoon at Buckley Air Force Base, Obama was met by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan, Chief of Police Daniel Oates, the state’s Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D), who joined him during his visit to the hospital.
The trip was Obama’s first public appearance since Friday when both he and GOP candidate Mitt Romney left the campaign trail after news of the tragedy hit. Both campaigns also pulled all ads from the key swing state.
Speaking on Air Force One, earlier in the day, deputy communications director Jen Psaki had said the visit to Aurora was a “big priority for the president” and acknowledged that the “tragic events” had changed the “tone” of the campaign.
Both campaigns will resume tomorrow with Obama speaking at the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) convention in Reno, Nev., and attending events in Oakland, Calif. Romney is scheduled to attend a fundraiser in Irvine Calif., before addressing the VFW on Tuesday.
The shootings have brought the issue of gun control back to the forefront. This weekend, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg pressed both candidates to pledge to better enforce the nation’s gun laws, while Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) urged lawmakers to renew the assault weapons ban.
But in his address, Obama avoided discussing the contentious issue, instead calling on the public to "reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country."
Speaking with reporters on Air Force One today Obama press secretary Jay Carney said the president was focused on preventing gun crimes using “using existing laws.”
Carney said Obama “believes we need to take steps that protect Second Amendment rights of the American people but that ensure that we are not allowing weapons into the hands of individuals who should not, by existing law, obtain those weapons.”
In his remarks, Obama also avoided speaking the name of the alleged perpetrator, James Holmes, who police suspect of opening fire in the packed movie theater after midnight on Friday, killing 12 and wounding over 50.
“I also tried to assure them that although the perpetrator of this evil act has received a lot of attention over the last couple of days that attention will fade away. In the end, after he has felt the full force of our justice system what will be remembered are the good people who were impacted by this tragedy,” said the president.
Reports said Obama had promised Jordan Ghawi, whose 24-year old sister Jessica was killed in the shooting rampage that he would not mention Holmes’s name, instead focusing his address on the victims.
Obama said he was particularly moved by the stories of Allie Young and Stephanie Davies, two survivors of the shooting and spoke at length of their experiences.
The president said Allie, 19, was saved by her friend Stephanie, 21, after being shot in the neck. Obama said Davies pulled Young out of the line of fire, staying with her and applying pressure to her wound even as the gunman continued to fire into the theater.
“I don’t know how many people at any age would have the presence of mind that Stephanie did or the courage that Allie showed and so as tragic as the circumstances of what we’ve seen today are, as heartbreaking for the families, it’s worth us spending most of our time on young Americans like Allie and Stephanie because they represent what’s best in us and they assure us that out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come,” Obama said.
President Obama meets with families and friends of shooting victims. In this photo, he consoles Jordan Ghawi, the brother of one victim, Jessica Ghawi, an aspiring sports journalist. Peter Burns looks on.
Photos courtesy of Peter Burns.