By Amie Parnes - 07/20/12 03:59 PM EDT
President Obama led a moment of silence Friday for victims of shootings at a Colorado movie theater he described as "heinous" and "senseless."
On a day on which he and Republican presidential candidate withdrew negative advertising in Colorado, Obama urged the country to come together, saying it “reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family.”
“If there was anything to take away from this tragedy it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious,” Obama told an audience in Florida. “What matters at the end of the day is not the small things. It's not the trivial things which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we treat one another and how we love one another.”
“My daughters go to the movies,” he said. “What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight and I'm sure you will do the same with your children.
“For those parents who may not be so lucky we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation,” he said.
Obama was scheduled to be in Florida for a string of campaign appearances, but canceled the events to head back to Washington.
The crowd at the event on Friday didn't hold campaign signs and while some were in the crowd seemed anxious to voice their support for Obama's campaign, they were met with a stone-faced president, who struck a somber chord.
“There are going to be other days for politics,” Obama told a somber crowd in Fort Myers that had gathered for a campaign rally. “This is a day for prayer and reflection.”
Obama’s campaign pulled down negative advertising scheduled to air in the state after the shootings at a premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo. Romney also suspended his campaign events and pulled down all ads in Colorado.
Authorities have arrested a lone gunman identified in news reports as James Holmes, 24, in the shootings in Aurora. Sometime after midnight, the shooter entered the movie theater through an emergency exit at a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” the latest movie in the Batman franchise.
Early reports estimate at least 12 are dead and another 50 are hospitalized with injuries after the shootings.
Obama said it could be impossible to understand what happened in the Aurora movie theater. He urged the crowd to “keep the people of Aurora in your hearts and minds today.”
“Even as we learn how this happened and who is responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody terrorize their fellow human beings like this,” Obama said. “Such violence such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living.
"The people we lost in Aurora loved and were loved," he continued. "They were mothers and fathers. They were husbands and wives. Sisters and brothers. Sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled."
Friday's tragedy wasn't the first time Obama sought to console a mourning nation.
Last year, on the heels of an Arizona shooting that killed six people and injured former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 12 others, Obama delivered an emotionally-charged speech — praised by both Republicans and Democrats — at a memorial service at which he urged the nation to "use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy," instead of pointing fingers.