Obama offers comfort after Colorado shooting

President Obama met with shooting victims
President Barack Obama talks about one of the Colorado movie theater shooting victims and her injury during a statement from the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, Colo., Sunday, July 22, 2012, after visiting with families of victims of the movie theater shooting as well as local officials. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper is at left and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., is at right.
Susan Walsh/ASSOCIATED PRESS

By JULIE PACE, Associated Press

AURORA, Colo. (AP) -- Despair all around him, President Barack Obama on Sunday offered hugs, tears and the nation's sympathy to survivors of the Colorado shooting rampage and to families whose loved ones were shot dead. He found hope in the heartbreak, insisting a brighter day will come.

In dramatic detail, Obama offered a glimpse inside the horror that took place in the Denver-area movie theater early Friday, relaying a story he said spoke to the courage of young Americans.

With two fingers pressed to his own neck, Obama recalled how one woman saved the life of a friend who had been shot by keeping pressure on a vein that had "started spurting blood" and later helping carry her to safety.

Behind closed doors, Obama visited one by one with families gathered at a hospital and patients recovering in intensive care. He emerged before the TV cameras and kept his focus on the lives and dreams of the fallen and the survivors, not the shooting suspect or his "evil act."

"I come to them not so much as president as I do as a father and as a husband," Obama told reporters after his visits. "The reason stories like this have such an impact on us is because we could all understand what it would be to have somebody we love taken from us in this fashion."

"I come to them not so much as president as I do as a father and as a husband."

Aurora's police chief, Dan Oates, told CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday morning that the families "need that kind of contact by our elected leader. It will be very powerful and it will help them. As awful as what they've been through and what they're going through has been having the president here is very, very powerful."

"I think the president coming in is a wonderful gesture," said Aurora's mayor, Steve Hogan. "He's coming in, really, to have private conversations with the families. I think that's totally appropriate."

Hogan told ABC's "This Week" that it "certainly means a lot to Aurora to know that the president cares."

After the Colorado stop, Obama was to fly to San Francisco, where on Monday he'll begin a previously scheduled three-day campaign trip that includes a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nev., fundraisers in California, Oregon and Washington state, and a speech to the National Urban League convention in New Orleans.

The shock of Friday's rampage brought the sprawling and sometimes vitriolic presidential campaign to a virtual standstill.

Obama cut short a political trip to Florida to return to Washington. Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled interviews. Both campaigns pulled ads off the air in Colorado out of respect for the victims.

But with election activities set to resume in the new week, Vice President Joe Biden was to speak to the National Association of Police Organizations in Palm Beach County, Fla., on Monday, and Romney is to address the VFW on Tuesday.

For Obama, the unhappy task of articulating sorrow and loss has become a familiar one.

Colorado community mourns
Gerald Wright, 24, relights candles that have blown out on Saturday, July 21, 2012, at a makeshift memorial across the street from the Century 16 movie theater the day after a gunman killed 12 people and injured 59 during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo.
Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

Indeed, for modern presidents, it's become an accepted facet of the office -- and for some, an opportunity for soaring words that rise above the partisan trench warfare of day-to-day governing.

Not 10 months in office, Obama led mourners at a service for victims of the November 2009 shooting at Texas' Fort Hood. In January of last year, he spoke at a memorial for the six victims killed in Tucson, Ariz., when a gunman attacked Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents.

The following April, when some 300 people were killed in a multi-state series of tornadoes, Obama flew to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to commiserate with residents whose homes were in ruins. A month later, Obama went to Joplin, Mo., after a monster twister claimed 161 lives. This year, he came back on the storm's anniversary to give a commencement speech at Joplin High School.

In between these public observances have been countless private meetings with families of troops who fell in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Obama, the Colorado visit was his second in just over three weeks. Last month, he flew to Colorado Springs to share the pain of homeowners whose houses had been turned to charred heaps by a record outbreak of wildfires.

Obama had already been a frequent Colorado visitor, which is no surprise given the state's key role in his re-election bid. He won the state by more than 8 percentage points over Republican nominee John McCain four years ago. But neither Obama's nor Romney's camp expects that big a margin this time. Recent polls place Obama's lead inside the margin of error.

But for one more day, at least, electoral considerations remained on the back burner.

"This weekend I hope everyone takes some time for prayer and reflection," Obama said in his Saturday broadcast, "for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover."

(AP writer Mark Smith contributed to this report)

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