It wasn't long after news broke that over 50 people were killed in an Orlando nightclub Sunday in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history for the White House to respond. Just hours after authorities confirmed there was an hours-long standoff with a lone gunman, who police killed, the White House released a statement informing the public that President Barack Obama had been briefed on the tragedy. But Obama's reaction to the Orlando shooting at Pulse came later.
(Update: The FBI has updated the death toll to 49 victims. The shooter was also killed.)
It's difficult to imagine how one could conjure up the proper words to truly mourn the killings Sunday morning. Nearly everyone felt helpless following the shooting — it's easy to imagine a lame duck president felt the exact same way. (Especially since he's already expressed a "sense of urgency" for gun reform in an executive action in January.) But Obama nevertheless made a statement.
We as Americans, we grieve the brutal murder and horrific massacre of dozens of innocent people. We pray for their families who are grasping for answers with broken hearts. We stand with the people of Orlando, who have endured a terrible attack on their city. Although it's still early in the investigation, we know enough to say that this was an act of terror and an act of hate. As Americans, we are united in grief, in outrage, and in resolve to defend our people.
I just finished a meeting with FBI director [James] Comey, and my homeland security and national security advisors. The FBI is on the scene and leading the investigation in partnership with local law enforcement. I've directed that the full resources of the federal government be made available for this investigation. we are still learning all the facts. This is an open investigation. We've reached no definitive judgment on the precise motivation of the killer. The FBI is appropriately investigating this as an act of terrorism and I've directed we must spare no effort to determine what if any inspiration or association this killer might have had with terrorist groups. What is clear is that he was a person filled with hatred. Over the coming days we will recover why and how this happened, and we will go wherever the facts lead us.
This morning I spoke with my good friend Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer. And I conveyed to him the deepest condolences of the American people. This could have been any one of our communities, so I told Mayor Dyer that whatever help he and the people of Orlando need, they are going to get it. As a country, we will be there for the people of Orland today, tomorrow, and all the days to come.
We also express our profound gratitude to all the police and first responders who rushed to harm's way. Their courage and professionalism saved lives and kept the carnage from being even worse. That's the kind of sacrifice that our law enforcement professionals make every single day for all of us and we can never thank them enough.
This is an especially heartbreaking day for all of our friends, all of our fellow americans who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. The shooter targeted a nightclub where people came together to be with friends, to dance and to sing, and to live. The place where they were attacked was more than a nightclub, it was a place of solidarity and empowerment, where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights. So this is a sobering reminder that attacks on any American, regardless of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation is an attack on all of us. And on the fundamental values of equality and dignity that define us as a country. And no act of hate or terror will ever change who we are or the values that make us Americans.
Today marks the most deadly shooting in American history. The shooter was apparently armed with a handgun and a powerful assault rifle. This massacre is therefore a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that let them to shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or in a movie theater, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well.
In the coming hours and days, we'l learn about the victims of this tragedy. Their names, their faces, who they are, the joy they brought to families and to friends, and the difference they made in this world. Say a prayer to them, and say a prayer for the families. And may God give them the strength to bear the unbearable, and that he give us all the strength to be there for them, and the strength and courage to change. We need to demonstrate that we are defined more as a country by the way that they live their lives than the hate of the man that took them from us. As we go together, we will draw inspiration from heroic selfless acts, friends who helped friends, took care of each other, and saved lives. In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another. We will not give into fear or turn against each other. Instead, we will stand united, as Americans, to protect our people, and defend our nation, and to take action against those who threaten us. May God bless the Americans we lost this morning, may he comfort their families, may God continue to watch over this country that we love.
Obama's words came after White House press secretary Josh Earnest released a statement to the press expressing "our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones of the victims." (Despite many criticizing the "thoughts and prayers" phrase following the San Bernardino shootings.) Continued the White House's statement, "The President asked to receive regular updates as the FBI, and other federal officials, work with the Orlando Police to gather more information, and directed that the federal government provide any assistance necessary to pursue the investigation and support the community."
There are many ways to support the community, as many have found while feeling helpless following the tragedy, donating blood being the number one option. But there's little doubt that the conversation will shift to how to help prevent shootings like these in the future, with the president leading the charge (and encouraging our future president to do the same). Because, as Obama said during the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 — which took the lives of 20 children, and six more adults — "as a country, we have been through this too many times."
And the Orlando shooting confirmed just that.