U.S. President Barack Obama “held and hugged” grieving family members in Orlando, Florida, Thursday but said he had no easy answers to their questions of why mass shootings continue to happen.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden met privately with relatives of the 49 people killed and the 53 wounded at Pulse, a gay nightclub, last Sunday in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
He said the families’ grief is “beyond description.”
‘Hearts are broken’
Obama called for solidarity in the face of the attack, saying those killed in the attack “could be our families,” and telling those directly affected by the shootings that “our hearts are broken, too.”
“If we don’t act, we will keep seeing more massacres like this because we will be choosing to allow them to happen,” he said.
Airborne on the flight from Washington to the southeastern U.S. city, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Obama “feels there is no more tangible way to show support for Orlando than to go there.”
Earnest said the president “wants to show [that] Americans stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Orlando.”
The three-hour siege ended when police knocked holes into the Pulse nightclub and killed the gunman, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, in a shootout.
Obama and Biden also met with the first-responders, medical staff and law enforcement officials to thank them for their efforts, and the owners and staff of the nightclub where the attack occurred. They also laid wreaths at a vigil site.
Florida legislators Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Corrine Brown flew with Obama to Orlando aboard Air Force One, but they did not take part in his meetings with those affected by the shooting.
Several vigils have been held here since the attack, and a steady stream of people pass by to pay their respects.