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President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama on Friday met privately with families of the victims of this month’s terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif.
The Obamas consoled family members behind closed doors at Indian Springs High School. The first family made the brief stop en route to their annual Christmas vacation in Hawaii.
Obama described the meetings in remarks afterward.
“It was so moving for Michelle and myself in part because it was so representative of the country. You had people from every background, every faith,” the president said.
“Some described their loved ones who had come to this country as immigrants; others who had lived in the area all their lives — all of them extraordinarily proud of the work they were doing to keep people healthy and safe here in this community.”
Obama vowed vigilance about preventing future mass shootings.
The attack earlier this month at the Inland Regional Center, which left 14 dead and 22 injured, prompted criticism of the president’s handling of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at home and abroad.
Republicans — and some Democrats — have called Obama too slow to respond to public fears about the threat posed by the group.
GOP presidential candidates slammed Obama’s response to ISIS during Tuesday night’s debate. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the president a “feckless weakling” in confronting the terror network. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from Obama’s previous declaration the group has been “contained” in the Middle East.
Obama appears to have acknowledged his initial response to the attack was off-key. He held a string of public events this week designed to reassure the public he has a handle on the anti-ISIS campaign and addressed the issue during his year-end press conference Friday.
In addition to his stop in San Bernardino, he visited the Pentagon earlier this week for a high-profile meeting with his national security team to go over the country’s strategy to fight ISIS in the Middle East.
Instead of receiving his usual pre-holiday threat briefing in the White House Situation Room on Thursday, Obama traveled to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) to meet with top intelligence and law enforcement officials.
The president said the administration has no “specific and credible information about an attack on the homeland,” but he urged the public to remain “vigilant” about the threat posed by lone-wolf actors.
Obama made a similar assurance just days before the San Bernardino attacks; the shooting was carried out by two individuals who are suspected of being inspired, but not ordered, by ISIS.
“When terrorists pull off a despicable act like what happened in San Bernardino, it tears at our hearts. But it also stiffens our resolve to learn whatever lessons we can and to make any improvements that are needed,” Obama said at the NCTC.
The apparent lack of warning for the attack sparked concerns about the government’s ability to foil lone-wolf-style attacks, especially during the busy holiday season, when many Americans travel to visit friends and relatives.
Obama was forced to interrupt his Hawaii vacation in 2009 when a man tied to al Qaeda attempted to detonate an underwear bomb aboard a commercial airliner in Detroit.
—Updated at 6:57 a.m.