When President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama stepped off Air Force One at the San Bernardino International Airport last Friday evening, their presence was welcomed by many as a balm of healing, compassion, hope and inspiration for grieving families and a shattered community.
Upon arrival, the Obamas were whisked away to Indian Springs High School in San Bernardino where the families of victims and first responders of the December 2nd terrorist attack waited anxiously.
The somber meetings, held in the school library, were in keeping with a distressing and poignant tradition that has continued to haunt the Obama presidency as he and the First Lady, were once again compelled to reach out, to touch the hands and hearts of grieving families.
The President’s meeting in San Bernardino on Friday evening with family members of mass-shooting victims was the twelfth such somber gathering initiated by Obama since he came to office in 2009; twelve mass shootings, twelve speeches in response, twelve intimate sessions with grieving families—a heartbreaking legacy that weighs heavily not only on the hearts of the Obamas, but the nation as well.
What seemed to stand out most about their visit Friday was its unhurried nature. The Obamas spent much longer than expected, nearly three hours, meeting one on one with the grieving families. The President spent up to ten minutes with each individual family. At times as appropriate, the First Lady took the young children of a family aside and read to them creating space for the parents to interact with the President without the filters or emotional guards one might expect to protect the sensibilities of children in the wake of a tragedy of such magnitude.
“Uplifting, inspiring, appreciated, healing,” were just a few of the adjectives used by family members to describe their interactions with the President and First Lady. “He spoke as if he was a member of our family,” one commented. “He said to me, ‘I got you’”, shared Mandy Pifer the girlfriend of Shannon Johnson, one of the 14 people killed in the terrorist rampage.
Immediately after the three hours spent with family members and first responders, the President made a few brief comments to the press.
“Despite the pain and heartache that they are feeling,” he shared in reference to the families, “They could not have been more inspiring and more proud of their loved ones or more insistent that something good comes out of this tragedy.”
The President also stressed to those in attendance, “As we go into the holiday season, even as we are vigilant about preventing terrorist attacks from happening, even as we insist we can’t accept the notion of mass shootings in public places, in places of work and worship, we have to remind ourselves of the overwhelming good that exists out there.”
To that end the President praised the families for their courage and commitment to use the tragedy for good. “Many of them are already taking the initiative to reach out and to speak out on behalf of community and tolerance,” he stressed.
A total of 14 people were shot to death and 22 injured by co-worker turned terrorists, Syed Rizwan Farook, as they attended a holiday banquet on December 2nd at the San Bernardino Inland Regional Center. Many of the nine men and five women killed along with Farook, all worked at the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.