President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden took a brief, but meaningful, trip to Orlando yesterday to grieve with and comfort the families and survivors affected by this past weekend’s horrific attacks at Pulse nightclub.
The events of the visit unfolded largely in private as the President and Vice President wanted to keep their focus on those most impacted by the tragedy, not on politicking. When the duo first arrived Thursday afternoon, they were greeted at the airport by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who presented the President with a black shirt emblazoned with a rainbow-colored heart and the phrase #OrlandoUnited.
President Obama and Vice President Biden then visited with the victims’ families and survivors of the attack. They met with the group at large before meeting with each individual family to offer their condolences and learn about their connection to the tragedy.
“He wanted to make sure he knew my son, who my son was,” said Gertrude Merced, who lost her son in the shooting. “He felt our pain. Being a dad, he could understand what it would be like if something happened to one of his children. He didn’t just shake our hands and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ but he made the effort to hug each and every one of us.”
After meeting with the families, the duo met with the owners of Pulse before visiting a makeshift memorial, upon which they laid 49 white roses.
At the end of the visit, Mr. Obama delivered a short speech in which he addressed and honored the grief of the survivors and family members that he’d met, extending empathy while also displaying a clear frustration with the political machine’s inability to enact effective gun reform.
“These could be our families,” his speech began. “In fact, they are our family, they’re part of the American family. Today, Vice President and I told them on behalf of the American people that our hearts are broken, too, and that we stand with you.”
“Today, once again, as has been true too many times before, I held and hugged grieving family members and friends, and they asked: Why does this keep happening?” Mr. Obama continued. “They pleaded that we do more to stop such killings.”
“Their grief is beyond description. They don’t care about politics. Neither do I. This debate needs to change—it’s outgrown the old political stalemates.”
He went on to say that he was glad to see senators coming together to discuss gun control, adding that he truly hoped that “senators [would] rise to the moment and do the right thing…to help end the plague of violence these weapons of war inflict on so many young lives.”
“We will not be able to stop every tragedy,” he concluded. “We can’t wipe away hatred and evil from every heart in this world, but we can stop some tragedies, we can save some lives.”
This marks the tenth city scarred by a mass shooting that Mr. Obama has visited during his presidency, including four in the last year alone.