Yesterday afternoon, President Obama made his way to Aurora, CO to spend some time with the survivors and families of victims of the mass shooting that took place early Friday morning. After he visited with those people privately, he delivered a speech at University of Colorado Hospital ahead of a large public vigil held in the city of Aurora. Click below to see some photos and read some of what was said at yesterday’s somber yet healing event.
President Barack Obama offered comfort Sunday night to the survivors and the families of the 12 people killed in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, never once mentioning by name the man accused of opening fire in a crowded movie theater. “I confessed to them that words are always inadequate in these kinds of situations, but that my main task was to serve as a representative of the entire country and let them know that we are thinking about them at this moment, and will continue to think about them each and every day,” Obama told reporters after the meeting at the University of Colorado Hospital, one of several area medical centers that treated the 58 people wounded in Friday’s attack. Obama recounted stories told to him by the victims’ families and those recovering from injuries. “It reminds you that even in the darkest of days, life continues and people are strong,” the president said. “Out of this darkness a brighter day is going to come.” Obama spoke before the start of a prayer vigil that brought together state and local officials with thousands of residents.
The thunderstorms from earlier in the afternoon were long gone once the crowd began gathering. Many held up signs as they proceeded in, a few reading, “Aurora has hope.” As prelude, the Aurora Symphony Brass Quintet played deliberately. The scene was reverent at Sunday’s vigil for the victims of Friday’s mass shooting in Colorado. Applause broke out through the standing throngs as military personnel made their way to the front. Twelve lit candles were placed along the edge of a large metal sculpture in front of the crowd to honor the 12 who lost their lives at the Century 16 movie theater, as well-armed snipers stood on the tops of buildings nearby. Aurora resident Christy Ranzanberger said she felt compelled to come to the memorial because she “wanted to take action.” She says she lives just 10 minutes from the theater where the shooting took place, and for her, the days since have been a jumble of emotions. “I’ve felt sadness. I felt anger … I feel like my peace of mind has been shaken,” Ranzanberger said … At 6:30 p.m., the Living Hope Baptist Church Choir formally opened the memorial event, with an a capella rendition of “Our God Is an Awesome God.” Some in the crowd, estimated to be at least 4,000, sang along. Family members of the victims entered a short time later, some holding placards with pictures of lost loved ones. Sustained applause and cheers greeted their entrance, as the choir repeated a steady chorus of amens. As the families took their seats, the brass quintet broke into an almost New Orleans second-line rendition of the gospel standard “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.” Religious overtones were present throughout the event, with six religious officials on the program. Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said explanations for the tragedy might be impossible to find. But in spite of that, he said, “Tonight we reach out to each other, and love each other, and love our neighbors. “While our hearts are broken, our community is not,” Hogan said. “We will reclaim our city in the name of goodness, kindness and compassion.” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper continued what became a trend for the night — refusing to name shooting suspect James Holmes, even as he praised the Aurora Police Department’s speedy response the night of the tragedy. “Literally, within seconds, they had apprehended the suspect, and I refuse to say his name,” Hickenlooper said. In one of the more emotional moments of the night, Hickenlooper led the audience in a call and response. One by one, he read the names of the 12 who lost their lives, the crowd responding to each with, “We will remember,” the chant growing stronger each time it was repeated. Family for each of the 12 stood solemnly when their names were called, some releasing balloons into the sky, tear-stained eyes straining to watch them float away, a still bright sun peeking through the cloudy, powder-blue sky. The thousands gathered sang “Amazing Grace” in unison as the families of the victims exited the service, carrying single white roses and candles. In a telling sign, once they were gone, many in the crowd lingered, hugging strangers, sharing stories of loss and grief and crying with one another. For a community that has spent days searching for answers and solace, the grassy lawn outside of the Aurora Municipal Center seemed a perfect place to look.
Far too often we are compelled to join together in unity after tragic events like this occur but each time we gain strength from the sense of community that convenes. It’s a terrible shame that it sometimes takes tragedy to make us come together but it is how we heal. No speeches or nice words can bring back the people lost but hopefully they can remind us that love and care for one another is stronger than the evil wrought by hatred. It is my sincere hope that the healing process will be a quick one for everyone affected. May those who were lost rest in peace and may those who survived find new strength of purpose in their lives ahead.