Obama comforts Colorado victims

AURORA, Colo. (AP) — President Barack Obama says he told the families of the victims of Friday’s movie theater massacre that “all of America and much of the world is thinking about them.”

Obama met with the family members Sunday at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, which treated 23 of the people injured in the mass shooting; 10 remain there, seven hurt critically. The massacre left 12 people dead, dozens injured and a nation in stunned sorrow.

He told reporters after the meeting that he came “not as president but as a father and a husband.” He said “we can all understand what it would be to have someone taken from us in this fashion.”

Air Force One touched down at Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora late Sunday afternoon for the Obama’s hastily arranged 21⁄2-hour visit.

A short time later, Obama began his visit with the family members at the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, which treated 23 of the people injured in the mass shooting; 10 remain there, seven hurt critically. The hospital is a short drive from the site of the shooting.

For a president nearing the end of his term and seeking a second one, it was another grim occasion for him to serve as national consoler in chief, a role that has become a crucial facet of the job. National tragedies can present an opportunity for presidents to show leadership and rise above partisan politics, as with President Bill Clinton and the Oklahoma City bombing and President George W. Bush and the Sept. 11 attacks.

But in moments of sorrow, presidents can risk looking detached and out of touch. Bush’s handling of Hurricane Katrina is an often-cited example.

Obama was accompanied at the hospital by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan.

“These families need that kind of contact by our elected leader,” Oates told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “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.”

Columbine survivors reach out to victims

The images brought it all back for survivors of the 1999 Columbine massacre.

Paralyzed in the Columbine shootings, Anne Marie Hochhalter, now 30, says friends still reach out to alert her to prepare for disturbing images on the news. She got a text message Friday morning when she woke up. Warning, it said. There was another one, this time close to home.

Hochhalter took a deep breath and turned on the TV.

“My heart just fell,” Hochhalter said Sunday. “It brought back a lot — flashbacks from that day. At the time I was so hurt I wasn’t watching the news, you know, watching it like other people were. But this time, I was right there, seeing it all.”

Hochhalter was headed to a prayer vigil for the victims Sunday night, hoping to share her experience with others.

just realizing what has happened. Now a retail manager, Hochhalter said she can offer a little hope.

“I would tell them that with time, it does get better. But it never goes away,” she said.

“Similar to the graduating senior class from Columbine, they may soon find themselves surrounded by people who have no clue that they were involved in a traumatic event,” Columbine survivor Ben Lausten wrote on a Facebook page for survivors of school shootings.

“Breaking down and crying for no apparent reason (which is perfectly normal!) is harder to do in an office, or a business, or in ‘normal’ society,” he said. “These victims have a challenging path ahead of them.”

Another piece of advice: Don’t waste time trying to figure out what motivated the shooter or shooters.

“It’s a waste of time, and it gives them exactly what they want,” said Hochhalter, who was eating lunch as a 17-year-old junior when she was shot in the chest and spinal cord on April 20, 1999. Even as the years pass, she said, she’s no closer to understanding why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 11 classmates, a teacher, and then themselves.

“I don’t think I’ll ever understand,” Hochhalter said.

But the Columbine survivors understand this: The Aurora survivors will need to talk. And they promise to listen.

“We know what they are going through, and we can help,” wrote Michelle Romero Wheeler, a Columbine survivor who posted links to sites supporting people at the theater shooting.

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