President Barack Obama — in what is becoming an all-too-familiar role as the consoler-in-chief — spent Thursday afternoon in Orlando, comforting the family members of victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre.
“Their grief is beyond description,” Obama said after he and Vice President Joe Biden spent two hours at the Amway Center, meeting privately with people who lost loved ones in Sunday’s attack. “These families could be our families. In fact, they are our family. … And today the vice president and I told them, on behalf of the American people, that our hearts are broken, too.”
Obama arrived in Orlando at 12:45 pm, accompanied on Air Force One by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla. Biden had arrived shortly before on Air Force Two with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. They were greeted on the tarmac by Gov. Rick Scott, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs before traveling in a motorcade to the Amway Center.
After meeting with the families, Obama and Biden went to the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where they placed bouquets of 49 white roses — one for each of the people who died in the attack — at a makeshift memorial there.
After several moments of silence, Obama moved to a podium and spoke to reporters, praising the first responders and medical personnel who responded to the attack. The shooter, St. Lucie County resident Omar Mateen, was killed by police.
Obama quoted one of the doctors as saying, “After the worst of humanity reared its evil head, the best of humanity came roaring back.”
The president called for unity across party lines “to stop killers who want to terrorize us.” He vowed to be “relentless” against terrorist groups like ISIL and al-Qaida.
“We are going to destroy them,” he said. “We are going to disrupt their networks and their financing and the flow of fighters in and out of war theaters. We’re going to disrupt their propaganda that poisons so many minds around the world.”
However, he noted, the last two terrorist attacks in the United States, in Orlando and San Bernardino, were “homegrown.”
“It’s going to take more than just our military, more than just our intelligence teams,” he said. “If you have lone wolf attacks like this, hatched in the minds of disturbed persons, we’re going to have to take different kinds of steps to prevent these kinds of things from happening.”
He noted that the Pulse attack was done by “a single killer with a powerful assault rifle,” saying that while the motives may have been different than in other mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., or Aurora, Colo., “the instruments of death are similar.”
The president said he was pleased that the U.S. Senate had agreed to consider gun control measures. .
“Today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and parents, and they asked, ‘Why does this keep happening?’ ” he said. “And they pleaded that we do more to stop the carnage. They don’t care about the politics — and neither do I.”
Those who defend easy access to assault weapons, he said, “should meet these families and explain why that makes sense.”
–Margie Menzel, News Service of Florida