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Obama offers comfort to families of Colorado shooting victims

July 23, 2012|By Kathleen Hennessey

Citing scripture and his own family, President Obama asked Americans to focus on the bravery and courage of the victims of the movie theater massacre that killed 12 in a Denver suburb on Friday.

"Although the perpetrator of this evil act has received a lot of attention over the last couple of days, that attention will fade away, and 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," Obama told reporters Sunday after meeting privately with some of the wounded and members of the slain victims’ families at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colo.

The president emerged from those meetings solemn and delivered brief and sometimes halting remarks to reporters.

Scripture says that God "will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away," Obama said, speaking at a lone microphone in a nondescript hospital hallway. He spent about three hours in Colorado on Sunday, nearly all of it visiting with the families.

"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 while words are always inadequate in these kinds of situations, my main task is to be a representative of the entire country and to let them know that we think about them each and every day."

The hospital was Obama's first stop on the visit to Aurora. The facility, located just a few minutes' drive from the scene of the shooting, treated 23 victims. Twelve of those have been released, 10 remain hospitalized and one died, said hospital spokesman Dan Weaver.

During his visit, Obama met with Jordan Gwali, the brother of Jessica Gwali, who died in the shooting. Gwali has since led an effort to keep the focus on the victims, rather than the alleged gunman, 24-year-old James Holmes. In a tweet sent after the meeting, Gwali said the president had agreed to support the effort.

Obama's hastily arranged visit to Colorado was tacked on to the beginning of an already scheduled trip to the West. The president is due to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars conference in Reno on Monday and, in keeping with his newly accelerated campaign schedule, had booked a string of fundraisers early this week.

But in the wake of the shooting, the campaign continued to adjust to the more subdued national mood. Campaign ads that had been flooding Colorado media markets remained off the air on Sunday and would be off for the rest of the week, the campaign said. A large fundraiser targeted at young donors in Portland, Ore. -- the sort of event that typically has a feisty and partisan vibe -- was canceled, in part because of scheduling issues but also because of the new tone on the trail, campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters traveling on Air Force One with the president.

The shooting has "changed both the tone and the schedule of the events," Psaki said. "Just like everybody, we’re taking this day by day.”

Asked if the president's response to the shooting might include a call for new gun-control laws, White House spokesman Jay Carney said no.

"But the president's view is that we can take steps to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them under existing law," he said. "And that's his focus right now."

Obama did not call for a specific response to the attack in his remarks Sunday.

He thanked the law enforcement officers, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates for their work. The president retold the story of two friends, 19-year-old Allie Young and 21-year-old Stephanie Davies, who were watching the "The Dark Knight Rises" together when the gunman entered the theater.

Young stood up and was immediately shot in the neck, Obama said, retelling the tale the women had just relayed to him. Davies quickly covered Young, dragged her out of the aisle and applied pressure to her wound. Davies stayed by her friend until she found medical help, the president said.

"I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country, but also reflect on all the wonderful people who make this the greatest country on Earth," Obama said.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

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