WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump struck a solemn tone Thursday after the deadly school shooting in Florida, describing a “scene of terrible violence, hatred and evil” and promising to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” but avoiding any mention of guns.
Taking up the now-familiar ritual of public consolation after terrible violence, Trump spoke from the White House Diplomatic Room. In a slow, deliberate style, he sought to reassure a troubled nation as well as students’ families and shooting survivors in Florida.
“We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also,” Trump said. “No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school.”
Trump, who owns a private club in Palm Beach, Florida about 40 miles from the town of Parkland, where the shooting happened, said Thursday he was making plans to visit the grieving community.
He did not answer shouted questions about guns as he exited the room.
The president’s address came a day after a former student opened fire at the Parkland, Florida, high school with an AR-15 rifle, killing 17 people and injuring 14 more. It was the nation’s deadliest school shooting since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago.
At the Capitol, the usual divisions over gun laws were evident.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said in a statement that it is time for action. “Congress has a moral responsibility to take common-sense action to prevent the daily tragedy of gun violence in communities across America,” she said. “Enough is enough.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, did not mention guns as he said the Senate would observe a moment of silence at noon. “To say that such brutal, pointless violence is unconscionable is an understatement,” he said.
Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some stricter gun restrictions. However, early in his administration, he told the National Rifle Association he was their “friend and champion.” He signed a resolution passed by the GOP-led Congress blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.
Trump on Thursday praised teachers and first responders and also offered a direct message to children.
“I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be,” Trump said. “You have people who care about you who love you and who will do anything at all to protect you. If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer or a faith leader. Answer hate with love, answer cruelty with kindness.”
Trump also pledged that his administration would work with state and local officials to improve school safety and to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”
He later added that “it is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference, we must actually make that difference.”
Trump, who did not speak publicly immediately after the shooting, weighed in on Twitter early Thursday, calling the suspect “mentally disturbed” and stressing it was important to “report such instances to authorities, again and again!” He tweeted about the shooting twice on Wednesday, expressing condolences and saying he spoke with Florida’s governor.
The president also issued a proclamation mourning the victims and ordering American flags at public buildings across the country flown at half-staff.
Trump has offered consolation before after horrific violence. A mass shooting in Las Vegas last year was the deadliest in modern history, with a gunman killing 58 people and injuring hundreds more, before killing himself. And a shooting in a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead.
He has largely focused on mental health as a cause for mass shootings, dismissing questions about gun control.
After the Texas church shooting, the president said, “This isn’t a guns situation.” When he visited Las Vegas to mourn with the families of those victims, Trump called the shooter “demented” and a “very sick individual,” though he added that “we’ll be talking about gun laws as time goes by.”
The 19-year-old suspect, Nikolas Cruz, is a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media. He had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for “disciplinary reasons,” Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel said.
Mayor Beam Furr said on CNN that the shooter was getting treatment at a mental health clinic for a while, but that he hadn’t been back to the clinic for more than a year.
While Trump has offered sober responses to some tragedies since he took office, he has also drawn criticism for more inflammatory reactions to acts of violence.
After the Orlando shootings at a gay nightclub that left 49 dead, he tweeted, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism.” In the wake of a deadly terror attack in London in June, he went after the Mayor Sadiq Khan on Twitter, suggesting he wasn’t taking the attacks seriously enough.
Read Trump’s full remarks:
My fellow Americans, today I speak to a nation in grief. Yesterday, a school filled with innocent children and caring teachers became the scene of terrible violence, hatred and evil.
Around 2:30 yesterday afternoon, police responded to reports of gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — a great and safe community. There, a shooter, who is now in custody, opened fire on defenseless students and teachers. He murdered 17 people and badly wounded at least 14 others.
Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for the victims and their families. To every parent, teacher, and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you — whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain. We are all joined together as one American family, and your suffering is our burden also.
No child, no teacher, should ever be in danger in an American school. No parent should ever have to fear for their sons and daughters when they kiss them goodbye in the morning.
Each person who was stolen from us yesterday had a full life ahead of them — a life filled with wondrous beauty and unlimited potential and promise. Each one had dreams to pursue, love to give, and talents to share with the world. And each one had a family to whom they meant everything in the world.
Today, we mourn for all of those who lost their lives. We comfort the grieving and the wounded. And we hurt for the entire community of Parkland, Florida, that is now in shock, in pain, and searching for answers.
To law enforcement, first responders, and teachers who responded so bravely in the face of danger: We thank you for your courage. Soon after the shooting, I spoke with Gov. (Rick) Scott to convey our deepest sympathies to the people of Florida and our determination to assist in any way that we can. I also spoke with Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
I’m making plans to visit Parkland to meet with families and local officials, and to continue coordinating the federal response.
In these moments of heartache and darkness, we hold on to God’s word in scripture: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears. I will heal you.”
We trust in that promise, and we hold fast to our fellow Americans in their time of sorrow.
I want to speak now directly to America’s children, especially those who feel lost, alone, confused or even scared: I want you to know that you are never alone and you never will be. You have people who care about you, who love you, and who will do anything at all to protect you. If you need help, turn to a teacher, a family member, a local police officer, or a faith leader. Answer hate with love; answer cruelty with kindness.
We must also work together to create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life, that creates deep and meaningful human connections and that turns classmates and colleagues into friends and neighbors.
Our administration is working closely with local authorities to investigate the shooting and learn everything we can. We are committed to working with state and local leaders to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health.
Later this month, I will be meeting with the nation’s governors and attorney generals, where making our schools and our children safer will be our top priority. It is not enough to simply take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference. We must actually make that difference.
In times of tragedy, the bonds that sustain us are those of family, faith, community, and country. These bonds are stronger than the forces of hatred and evil, and these bonds grow even stronger in the hours of our greatest need.
And so always, but especially today, let us hold our loved ones close, let us pray for healing and for peace, and let us come together as one nation to wipe away the tears and strive for a much better tomorrow.
Thank you. And God Bless you all. Thank you very much.