Obama visits San Bernardino shooting victims

Posted at 9:04 AM, Dec 19, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-19 09:04:59-05

SAN BERNARDINO, California (CNN) -- President Barack Obama traveled to California and met privately with victims and families of those killed in the San Bernardino mass shooting this month.

As Obama's motorcade sped toward San Bernardino's Indian Springs High School late Friday night, hundreds lined the streets. Crowds cheered, applauded and took cell phone pictures.

The meeting lasted nearly three hours, with the President and first lady Michelle Obama taking their time with each person, said Robel Tekleab, who lost his brother, Isaac Amanios, in the massacre authorities are calling a terrorist attack.

"It was as if he was a member of our family. Isaac really admired the President, and we talked about how dear he was to him," Tekleab said. "He talked about Isaac's kids and he gave them encouragement. It was very close, very intimate."

Good hugs

Mandy Pifer lost her boyfriend, Shannon Johnson, who was shot while shielding a co-worker from the bullets.

The President and first lady are good huggers, Pifer said.

"I had a very intimate conversation with both of them. And it was nice. I felt like they were very present," she said. "They were listening to what I said. They were curious about Shannon, about our relationship."

She was impressed by the eye contact she shared with the Obamas. "I'll remember how important -- I think -- it was for them to meet with each family," she said.

Obama: strength, unity, love

In addition to consoling the families, the President also met with first responders to the massacre.

"They're all representative of the strength and the unity and the love that exists in the community and in this community," Obama said.

"Despite the pain and the heartache that they're feeling, they could not have been more inspiring and more proud of their loved ones and more insistent that something good comes out of this tragedy."

"It was a reminder of what's good in this country," he said. "I hope that's something that gives all Americans a sense of pride and a sense of hope."

The President said the families of victims came from every background and faith.

Shortly after, the Obamas traveled on from San Bernardino to Hawaii for a Christmas visit.

Critical official

A supervisor for San Bernardino county criticized the President during the visit.

"Unlike 9/11, when we saw President Bush at Ground Zero, and he said 'I can hear you,' we didn't have President Obama here. There just wasn't that moment," Curt Hagman said.

He said the President had not shown leadership in the immediate aftermath.

Cold blooded shooting

On December 2, Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik mowed down a holiday gathering at the Regional Inland Center with long rifles killing 14 people and injuring 17 others.

U.S.-born Farook and Pakistan native Malik expressed commitment to Islamic jihad and martyrdom in direct, private online messages in late 2013, months before Malik moved to the United States to live with Farook, FBI Director James Comey has said.

Malik also pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Badghadi in a Facebook post as the San Bernardino attack was happening, three U.S. officials familiar with the investigation told CNN.

CNN's Paul Vercammen and Kevin Liptak reported from San Bernardino. Ben Brumfield wrote and reported from Atlanta, and Jason Hanna and Dana Ford contributed to this report.

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