Saturday 20 January 2018

Obama meets victims' families on Orlando visit

Barack Obama and Joe Biden pay their respects to the victims in Orlando, Florida. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Barack Obama and Joe Biden pay their respects to the victims in Orlando, Florida. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Andrew Buncombe

If US President Barack Obama found it difficult to speak to the survivors of the Pulse nightclub killing, it was not for lack of experience.

His visit to Orlando yesterday, where he was accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, was the 10th occasion he had gone to offer solace to a community grieving after a mass shooting. He has previously said it is one of the most difficult aspects of his job.

Some had suggested the president may wait a little longer before travelling to Florida, as he did when he visited Charleston, South Carolina, and San Bernadino in California, after similar atrocities. Yet for some reason, he decided he should come swiftly, as a debate about gun control and tolerance continues to engulf the country.

"I think it is good that he comes and shows support," said Jessica Sciacca, who was waiting outside the city's Amway Centre stadium, where the president met privately with families of the 49 victims, with survivors and with local police and other law enforcement officials who responded to last Sunday's shooting. "I think the city has to come together. People have been coming together already."

The day before the president's visit, his spokesman, Josh Earnest, said Mr Obama would focus on the victims, rather than enter, at least publicly, into the discussion over what led Omar Mateen to launch the attack. The 29-year-old, who had previously been investigated for possible links to Islamic extremism but cleared, claimed his attack on a gay night club had been done in the name of Isil.

But there are also reports that Mateen may have been gay himself, and may have visited the Pulse night club. His second wife told officials she had tried to talk her husband out of the attack and she is currently under investigation. There is widespread speculation she could be charged.

"The president's visit to Orlando has nothing to do with the individual who perpetrated this terrible attack," said Mr Earnest. He said Mr Obama intended to tell residents "that they're not alone, even as they endure what surely have been several dark nights."

The White House released few details in advance about Mr Obama's trip, which aides said was hurriedly arranged in a fraction of the time usually required to plan a presidential trip.

But the president planned "to make clear that the country stands with the people of Orlando".

Irish Independent

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