President Barack Obama called Friday for a truce in the political war that is the 2012 campaign as he led an emotional silent tribute to the victims of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., and urged a country often divided to unite "as one American family."
"The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved," he told a crowd gathered in Fort Myers, Fla., for a boisterous campaign rally now refashioned as a somber moment of national mourning. "They were mothers and fathers, they were husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future. And they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled."
Obama thanked the crowd for supporting him against Mitt Romney, but declared: "There are going to be other days for politics."
"This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection," he said. "So what I'd ask everybody to do, I'd like us to pause in a moment of silence for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover, and for all the victims of less publicized acts of violence that plague our communities every single day."
The heavy 25-second silence was broken only by the cry of a child in the audience. The president, who canceled the rest of a daylong campaign swing in the Sunshine State, shared some of the details from the shooting, saying that at least 12 people were killed and dozens more wounded in the attack and underlining that "some of the victims are being treated at a children's hospital."
"I'm sure that many of you who are parents here had the same reaction that I did when I heard this news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day?" he said. "Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight. And I'm sure you will do the same with your children. But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them, and let them know we will be there for them as a nation."
Obama said police had one suspect in custody and vowed that "the federal government stands ready to do whatever's necessary to bring whoever's responsible for this heinous crime to justice."
"We will take every step possible to ensure the safety of all of our people. We're going to stand by our neighbors in Colorado during this extraordinarily difficult time," he said. Obama related that he had spoken to Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper "to express not just on behalf of Michelle and myself but the entire American family how heartbroken we are."
Earlier, the White House said there was as yet no evidence of any linkage between the attack and organized terrorism. And the Obama campaign canceled planned events for first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. It also announced it was pulling down attack ads in Colorado.
"We may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless, it's beyond reason," he said, but "we do know what makes life worth living."
"And if there's anything to take from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things, it is not the trivial things which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another, and how we love one another," he said. "It's what we do on a daily basis to give our lives meaning and to give our lives purpose. That's what matters. At the end of the day, what we'll remember will be those we loved and what we did for others. That's why we're here."
As he began his remarks to the crowd, Obama thanked his supporters for their help and alluded to the gathering's original purpose.
"Many of you came here today for a campaign event. I was looking forward to having a fun conversation with you about some really important matters that we face as a country and the differences between myself and my opponent in this election," he said. "But this morning, we woke up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family."