By By MARK S. SMITH, ASSOCIATED PRESS
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama again steps into the role of consoler-in-chief during a visit Sunday with distraught families of those gunned down in a minute and a half of horror at a midnight movie showing in Colorado.
While authorities gather evidence on the suspect and the nation tries to fathom what drove the gunman, Obama planned to meet with loved ones struggling with pain and grief.
"We need to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address.
During the brief visit, just under 2 1/2 hours, he planned to meet with officials in Aurora, where the shots rang out at a multiplex theater early Friday. Twelve of the victims died, and dozens were injured.
"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.
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 to be 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."
"Michelle and I are shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado," President Obama said in a statement. "Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my Administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time. We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded. As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family. All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come."
"Ann and I are deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence that took the lives of 15 people in Colorado and injured dozens more," Mitt Romney said in a statement. "We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice."
Sen. Robert Menendez
Scott P. Brown
Speaker John Boehner
Senator John Thune
"This was horrible, senseless and abhorrent act," Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Co.) said in a statement. "My family and I are shocked and deeply saddened this morning and our hearts are with the victims and their families. My staff and I are in contact with and offering our support to law enforcement and medical officials as they respond to the shooting."
"This is not only an act of extreme violence, it is also an act of depravity," Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said.
"Heartfelt prayers for the victims in Aurora, Colorado and all those impacted by this terrible tragedy," Mike Huckabee said in a statement on his Facebook page.
"I am heartbroken and shocked by the horrific act of violence in Colorado," Tim Kaine said in a statement. "The thoughts of Anne and I are with the families who have lost loved ones in this senseless tragedy. We continue to pray for the recovery of those who have been wounded, and we offer our support to Governor Hickenlooper and the entire community of Aurora as they heal."
"Michael Haley and I have the victims and their families of the Colorado massacre in our thoughts," South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said in a statement on Facebook. "Please join us in prayer for all those effected by this horrible senseless tragedy."
"I join in mourning the tragic loss of life in Colorado this morning. The families of the victims, the many injured, and all those in Aurora are in my thoughts and in my prayers," House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer said in a statement Friday. "It is in times like these that Americans have always rallied together as one community and one family, and we do so again today. I commend the heroism of our first responders from local and federal law enforcement and area hospitals, who have done an outstanding job in the face of great difficulty. "As the people of Aurora find themselves facing their darkest hour, I hope they find comfort knowing that the memories of the lost will never fade, their community will remain strong, and that the nation stands united alongside them as their process of healing begins."
"Elaine and I are heartbroken by the shootings in Aurora," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday in a statement. "This senseless massacre of so many innocent people gathered with friends and family in a movie theater reminds us not only of the great evil that exists in the hearts of some, but of the great and precious gift of life. I join all Americans today in prayer for the victims, their families and friends, and the wider Aurora community, and in heartfelt thanks to all the first responders who quickly responded at great risk to themselves. It is in moments like this that Americans have always drawn closer together and shown their great compassion and generosity to those touched by tragedy and loss. We hope that in the midst of the horror in Aurora, these qualities shine through once again and reach those who are suffering most. America is at prayer today for all who are affected by this tragedy."
Rep. Diana DeGette
"The shooting in the Aurora movie theater is a national tragedy, and the victims of this cruel and violent act are in my thoughts," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement Friday. "Innocent people suffered a heartbreaking loss, but the victims and their families are not alone. Today, Americans take time to reflect on the value of life and the things that are most important to us, and mourn for those who lost what is most important to them. Everyone affected by this violent act will be in our hearts today, and for a long time to come."
"The horrific nightmare of a mass shooting on innocent civilians in a crowded public place has, sadly, come true once again," said Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.), whose family was affected by a mass shooting on the Long Island Railroad before she was elected to Congress, in a statement Friday. "I mourn alongside the people of Aurora for the many killed and injured and the countless family and friends whose lives, as a result of the consequences of this event, will be negatively affected for decades to come. The shooter should be brought to justice and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But we as a nation should also not continue to ignore avenues to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future."
Senator Dick Durbin
"This is a terrible tragedy for the families of the victims, the city of Aurora and our entire nation," Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren said in a statement Friday. "This senseless violence has no place in our society. As a mother and grandmother, I am truly saddened that so many of the victims were so young. Bruce and I send our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their loved ones."
"The shooting in Aurora is a senseless tragedy and a despicable act," said Libertarian Party presidential candidate and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson in a statement Friday. "Our thoughts go out to the victims, their families, and to the entire community as they deal with the shock and grief today brings. "
"Jill and I were shocked to learn of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado this morning," Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement Friday. "The reason this is so deeply felt by all Americans is that, but for the grace of God, the victims could have been any one of our children, in any one of our towns. It is every parent's worst nightmare to receive 'that phone call' and to sit by their child's bedside, praying. We know what it's like to wait and wonder and the helplessness a parent feels at this moment. Our hearts go out to each and every person who is suffering right now as a result of this terrible event. The prayers of an entire nation are with the victims and their families. We stand with the city of Aurora and the state of Colorado in mourning."
Gov. Buddy Roemer
"Todd's and my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of the terrible tragedy in Colorado," Sarah Palin said Friday in a statement on Facebook. "Our family joins others in praying for everyone affected by the evil that inexplicably took innocent lives. We wish to remind all to hold loved ones tight."