Moments after visiting families whose relatives were killed in the Colorado shooting, President Barack Obama addressed the nation with a focus on the actions, and spirit, of ordinary Americans, confessing that “words are always inadequate in these situations.”
“I come to them not so much as president as I do a father and a husband,” Obama said after meeting at a hospital near the site of the shooting that killed 12 people and wounded 58 during a showing of the latest Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.
The conversations showed him “that even in the darkest of days, life continues,” Obama said, “and people are strong and people bounce back and people are resilient.”
Obama arrived in Colorado this afternoon and spent about two and a half hours at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora with families of those who were killed and injured in the shootings, and with several victims in the hospital’s intensive care unit. Afterward, he left for San Francisco, to begin a previously-scheduled campaign trip, with stops in California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Louisiana.
At the hospital, Obama’s meetings were away from public view. He described his conversations as uplifting, especially a heroic tale of two young friends.
With two fingers held up to his neck, Obama recounted how one friend saved another by compressing a neck vein that had been punctured by a bullet, “spurting blood.” The uninjured friend, 21-year-old Stephanie Davies, kept her fingers pressed on 19-year-old Allie Young’s neck injury through the entire shooting, called 911 with her free hand, and then helped carry her to an ambulance. Young lived and will fully recover, the president said, after speaking with both.
“They represent what’s best in us,” Obama said. ‘They assure us that our of this darkness, a brighter day will come.’’
It was Obama’s second response to a mass shooting in his presidency, yet another jolt to the nation, which led some to call for stricter gun control laws. On January 8, 2011, a gunman opened fire at a shopping mall in Tucson, killing six and wounding U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.
“Any president in moments like these is the comforter-in- chief,” said Robert Shrum, a Democratic speech writer “Like Ronald Reagan, like Bill Clinton, Obama understands what presidents have to do in moments like this,” said Bob Shrum.
“That’s fundamentally what Reagan did after the Challenger,” he said. “That’s fundamentally what Clinton did in Oklahoma City.”
The loss of seven astronauts in the 1986 Challenger disaster gripped the nation in horror. President Ronald Reagan turned to faith, as he spoke to during a memorial afterward, acknowledging the shared pain of a national loss
“We can find consolation only in faith, for we know in our hearts that you who flew so high and so proud now make your home beyond the stars, safe in God’s promise of eternal life,” Reagan said.
Clinton also sought to salve the nation’s wounds after the Oklahoma City bombing when Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma. Four days after the Tucson shoots, Obama asked Americans to choose compassion over conflict, when he flew to Tucson last year for a memorial service at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
“The truth is, none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack,” Obama said at the time. “What we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do.”
“It’s one of the things president do,” Shrum said. “but you can never be political about it, just entirely presidential. Obama understands that obviously.”
In Aurora today, Obama said it was important to focus on the heroes rather than the suspect, James Holmes, whom the president did not mention by name.
He drew upon the heroism of people in the crowd as illustrations of the heartbreak and hope that emerged from the chaotic scene after a gunman opened fire at a movie theater, a half-hour into a showing of the new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Obama tried to assure the families and victims 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.
To contact the reporters on this story: Roger Runningen in Aurora, Colorado at firstname.lastname@example.org; Hans Nichols in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at firstname.lastname@example.org