Obama met with the families of the 14 who were murdered on December 2 by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik during a holiday party at Farook’s work.
One local leader criticized the President for meeting only with relatives of the victims who lost heir lives in the attacks and accused him of ‘politicizing’ the tragedy in the weeks afterwards.
First Lady Michelle Obama joined her husband for the meetings at Indian Springs High School, just a short drive from the airport where Air Force One landed after the cross-country flight from Washington.
A separate table was set up for each family and the Obamas moved from one to the next, spending about ten minutes with each victim’s relatives.
‘Obviously, those families are going through a difficult time, not just because they’ve lost loved ones, but obviously at the holiday season I think that loss is even more acute,’ said White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
‘The president felt before he could begin his holiday that it was important for him to spend some time with these Americans who are mourning.’
The girlfriend of one of the 14 people killed in the December 2 shooting in San Bernardino said President Obama immediately asked her for a hug when he came to talk with her on Friday night.
When Obama approached the table in the library of Indian Springs High School where Mandy Pifer was sitting, he said, ‘Words aren’t enough. How about a hug?’
Pifer’s boyfriend Shannon Johnson, 45, was killed in the attack.
‘I’ve been watching you give hugs,’ Pifer recalled telling him. ‘I need a hug.
‘It just felt like they were really present in their conversation with me.
‘They are sick and tired of doing these things, meeting our families.’
Obama said meeting with the families was a reminder ‘of what’s good in this country’.
‘As difficult as this time is for them and for the entire community, they’re also representative of the strength and the unity and the love that exists in this community and in this country,’ Obama said late Friday after the meetings with family members.
Rep. Pete Aguilar, the Democratic congressman who represents San Bernardino, said it was important to have the president in the community to ‘bring comfort’.
But San Bernardino Supervisor Curt Hagman said it wasn’t enough, arguing that the first responders and the 22 who were injured in the attack ‘also deserve the president’s time’.
‘This is an opportunity for unity and healing at the highest level and I call upon President Obama to be more inclusive with his meeting,’ Hagman said in a statement.
Hagman also offered his assistance to bringing families of first responders and the wounded to the meeting.
After he was criticized for the statement on Facebook, Hagman accused Obama of using a terrorist attack ‘to promote his agenda on gun control’, according to Buzzfeed.
Earnest said Obama’s visit was ‘patterned after’ a similar trip to Roseburg, Oregon, in October when he met for about an hour with families of the nine victims killed in a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.
The president has visited the sites of other mass shootings, including Charleston, South Carolina and Newtown, Connecticut, seeking to console rather than express anger toward the killers.
Unlike the other visits, Obama landed in San Bernardino as local and federal authorities are still investigating the shooters, who were later killed in a gun battle with police.
During the visit, Pifer told the Obamas about Johnson, how he loved life, his virtues and their future plans.
She also shared with them what she knows about his last moments: His colleague Denise Peraza, who survived the attack, said he huddled with her under a table as bullets flew across the room.
He held her close and told her, ‘I got you.’
Peraza credits Johnson with her survival, and since then the phrase ‘I got you’ has spread across social media.
When she mentioned the phrase to the Obamas, they nodded, indicating it was a story they already knew, she said.
She brought a sign stating ‘#IGotYou’ that they all posed for a photo with it.
Johnson and Peraza are in the initial stages of planning a foundation in Johnson’s memory.
‘I feel like they’re on my side,’ she said.
‘They’re on our side. And that he’s going to keep working to make this better even after he’s left office. It’s personal for them.’
Read more: Daily Mail