Obama meets privately in San Bernardino with terror victims’ families – USA TODAY
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — Displaying a quieter and more discreet expression of national grief that’s becoming a hallmark of his presidency, President Obama met privately with the families of terror victims in San Bernardino Friday night.
“Despite the pain and the heartache that they’re feeling, they could not have been more inspiring,” Obama said after meeting with the families for three hours. “It was a reminder of what’s good in this country.”
He told reporters that the 14 victims of the attack came from every background and faith. “They’re all representative of the strength and the unity and the love in this community.”
Stopping off on the way to Honolulu for a scheduled two-week Christmas vacation, the president and First Lady Michelle Obama met privately with the families of the 14 people killed in the attack, as well as with a number of first responders, atÂ Indian Springs High School.Â Another 22 were injured in the Dec. 2 shooting spree by husband-and-wife attackers that the FBI believes were inspired â but not directed â by the Islamic State terror group.
Obama made a similar stop in Roseburg, Ore., in October after a shooting at a community college there. His private meetings with families of mass shooting victims have become a distinctive feature of Obama’s highly personal approach to comforting victims.
In San Bernardino, the families and first responders who met with Obama departed quickly, not making themselves available for interviews. But outside the school, about 100 local residents, some waving American flags and snapping smartphone photos, braved chilly temperatures to greet the motorcade.
The visit had been the subject of a local debate about whether Obama should have come sooner after the tragedy, making a special trip instead of a stop off on the way to his native state.
“I’m a strong Obama supporter, but I feel he should have been here sooner,” said Michael Stein, 25, who works in education. He says Obama’s speech from the White House about the tragedy would have been more powerful if it had been delivered from San Bernardino. “You expect your leader to stand by you.”
But Lorraine Alcaraz, 47, who works in a department store, said she was just pleased that Obama came. “He’s here to support us,” she said.
If President Clinton defined the notion of the mourner-in-chief, Obama has adopted a quieter, more private style of consolation in the wake of national tragedy. In a new book by the former director of faith-based partnerships in the Obama White House, author Joshua DuBois described the details of Obama’s meetings with the families of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, Conn. in 2012 â meetings Obama has never discussed publicly.
“Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, ‘Tell me about your son. â¦ Tell me about your daughter,’ and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter,” Dubois wrote in The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama. “In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.”
The San Bernardino stop will be a short one, “long enough to spend some time with the families of those who were killed in the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino a couple of weeks ago,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Thursday. No other stops or public events were expected.
“Obviously those families are going through a difficult time, not just because they’ve lost loved ones, but obviously, at the holiday season, I think that loss is even more acute,” Earnest said. “So the President felt, before he could begin his holiday, that it was important for him to spend some time with these Americans who are mourning, and know that even as Americans around the country are going to hopefully get the chance to spend some time with their families in the weeks ahead, that our thoughts and prayers will continue to reside with those families.”
Obama has gotten criticism for his handling of the private meetings. San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman, a Republican, said Obama should have made a more public appearance and included the 22 wounded victims. “It’s almost as like this is like an afterthought, that he’s flying on his way to vacation two weeks after the event,” Hagman told CBS Los Angeles.
At a press conference earlier Friday, Obama said the San Bernardino attacks show the need for Americans to remain vigilant amid an evolving terrorist threat.
“Here, essentially, you have ISIL trying to encourage or induce somebody who may be prey to this kind of propaganda. And it becomes more difficult to see. It does mean that they’re less likely to be able to carry out large, complex attacks,” he said. “But as we saw in San Bernardino, obviously, you can still do enormous damage.”
The Obamas â with daughters Sasha and Malia and an entourage of national security and other staffers â were scheduled to arrive in Obama’s native Hawaii early Saturday morning. The president has no public events scheduled during his two-week vacation.
Woodyard reported from San Bernardino and Korte reported from Washington