At a high school in San Bernardino on Friday evening, President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama met with first responders and the families of victims of the terror attack in that city that left 14 people dead earlier this month.
The meeting came just over two weeks after the Dec. 2 mass shooting at San Bernardino’s Inland Regional Center left a community devastated and reignited the national debate over gun control and how to deal with international terrorism.
The Obamas departed from the South Lawn of the White House and landed shortly after 7:30 p.m. Friday at San Bernardino International Airport.
They were greeted on the tarmac by San Bernardino Mayor R. Carey Davis, county Supervisor James Ramos and Rep. Pete Aguilar. After speaking briefly with the officials, the first couple departed in their motorcade.
“The president shared his condolences for all the families here in San Bernardino County and shared accolades for the first responders, for the situation,” Ramos told reporters afterward.
“I think we’re just honored that the president would come out and to pay those respects,” Aguilar said. “We’re less concerned about the timetables involved and just thankful that he would come out and spend some time with the families.”
Temporary flight restrictions in the area — from 7:15 to 10:30 p.m. — initially indicated the meeting would be brief. No road closures were announced.
After arriving at Indian Springs High School, the president and first lady met for three hours with the families as well as emergency personnel involved in the response to the attack.
President Obama then briefly addressed reporters in a classroom at the campus.
“It was so moving for Michelle and myself, in part because it was so representative of the country,” he said. “You had people from every background, every faith.”
The president went on to say that he was deeply moved by the meeting.
“As difficult as this is for them and the entire community, they also represent the strength and unity and the love that exists in this community,” he said. “Despite the pain and the heartache that they’re feeling, they could not have been more inspiring.”
After the visit, the Obamas returned to the airport and continued on to Hawaii for a previously scheduled vacation.
First responders and the shooting’s 22 injured victims had not been expected to be at the meeting with Obama, according to San Bernardino County Supervisor Curt Hagman, who earlier criticized the lack of inclusion.
“He could do more than what he’s doing,” Hagman said. “It doesn’t show the magnitude of how hard this community’s been hit.”
The survivors, and responders who did “an incredible job of putting their lives on the line for all of us” deserved a word of encouragement from the president, Hagman said, adding that the president “should take this opportunity to express the gratitude of the American people to these heroes face-to-face.”
The San Bernardino massacre was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, whose interest in violent jihad was realized after the Islamic State group-inspired attack, prompting President Obama to host a series of briefings discussing the country’s preparedness to fight terrorism.
An investigation into the deadly attack also led to the arrest of Farook’s former neighbor, Enrique Marquez, on Thursday.
Marquez was accused of supplying two guns used in the deadly incident, as well as conspiring with Farook to provide material support to terrorism in 2011 and 2012, among other charges.