SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — Opening Christmas vacation on a somber note, President Barack Obama said meeting with the loved ones of 14 holiday revelers who were fatally shot two weeks ago in Southern California 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 nearly three hours of meetings with family members.
He was accompanied by his wife, first lady Michelle Obama. He described the meetings as “so moving” for both of them.
Obama stopped in California en route to Hawaii for his annual holiday getaway.
He said the family members were “inspiring” as they spoke with pride about their loved ones
“As we go into the holiday season, even as we are vigilant about preventing terrorist attacks from happening, even as we insist we can’t accept the notion of mass shootings in public places, in places of work and worship, we have to remind ourselves of the overwhelming good that exists out there,” he said.
Authorities identified the shooters in the Dec. 2 attack on a San Bernardino county government facility as American-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, of Pakistan. Both were killed in a shootout with police.
The FBI is investigating the case as an act of terrorism. The couple pledged allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State group on Facebook, moments before the shooting, authorities said. But they have found no evidence that the Farook and Malik were carrying out instructions from an overseas terrorist group or that they were part of a U.S.-based conspiracy.
The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attack in Paris that killed 130 people. Both attacks, happening so close to the holidays, heightened public fears about terrorism on U.S. soil.
Obama has tried to allay those concerns with a rare Oval Office address, days after the San Bernardino attack, on the administration’s strategy to counter the threat from IS, as well as through public appearances this week with members of his national security team following separate briefings he received on the Islamic State and potential threats to the homeland.
Most of the 14 people killed at the holiday banquet Dec. 2 worked with Farook in the San Bernardino County public health department. Nine men and five women, ranging in age from 26 to 60, were killed.
Obama met with members of each of the 14 families. The meetings took place in the library of Indian Springs High School, with the president and first lady taking nearly three hours to speak individually with each group of relatives.
Such meetings have become a grim ritual of Obama’s presidency. Most recently, he met privately in October with families of the victims of a student gunman who killed eight classmates and a teacher at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, before turning the gun on himself.
Obama flew to California after holding his annual year-end news conference at the White House. After meeting with the families, he continued to Hawaii to begin two weeks of vacation with his wife and daughters in the island state where he was born.
He is scheduled to return to the White House in early January to begin his final year in office.