WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama again steps into the role of consoler-in-chief during a visit today with distraught families of those gunned down in a minute and a half of horror at a midnight movie showing in Colorado.
While authorities gather evidence on the suspect and the nation tries to fathom what drove the gunman, Obama planned to meet with loved ones struggling with pain and grief.
"We need to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation," Obama said Saturday in his weekly radio and Internet address.
During the brief visit, just under 2½ hours, he planned to meet with officials in Aurora, where the shots rang out at a multiplex theater early Friday. Twelve of the victims died, and dozens were injured.
"I think the president coming in is a wonderful gesture," said Aurora's mayor, Steve Hogan. "He's coming in, really, to have private conversations with the families. I think that's totally appropriate."
Hogan told ABC's "This Week" that it "certainly means a lot to Aurora to know that the president cares."
After the Colorado stop, Obama was to fly to San Francisco, where on Monday he'll begin a previously scheduled three-day campaign trip that includes a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nev., fundraisers in California, Oregon and Washington state, and a speech to the National Urban League convention in New Orleans.
The shock of Friday's rampage brought the sprawling and sometimes vitriolic presidential campaign to a virtual standstill.
Obama cut short a political trip to Florida to return to Washington. Republican challenger Mitt Romney canceled interviews. Both campaigns pulled ads off the air in Colorado out of respect for the victims.
But with election activities set to resume in the new week, Vice President Joe Biden was to speak to the National Association of Police Organizations in Palm Beach County, Fla., on Monday, and Romney is to address the VFW on Tuesday.
For Obama, the unhappy task of articulating sorrow and loss has become a familiar one.
Indeed, for modern presidents, it's become an accepted facet of the office — and for some, an opportunity for soaring words that rise above the partisan trench warfare of day-to-day governing.
Not 10 months in office, Obama led mourners at a service for victims of the November 2009 shooting at Texas' Fort Hood. In January of last year, he spoke at a memorial for the six victims killed in Tucson, Ariz., when a gunman attacked Rep. Gabrielle Giffords as she met with constituents.
The following April, when some 300 people were killed in a multi-state series of tornadoes, Obama flew to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to commiserate with residents whose homes were in ruins. A month later, Obama went to Joplin, Mo., after a monster twister claimed 161 lives. This year, he came back on the storm's anniversary to give a commencement speech at Joplin High School.
In between these public observances have been countless private meetings with families of troops who fell in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For Obama, the Colorado visit was to be his second in just over three weeks. Last month, he flew to Colorado Springs to share the pain of homeowners whose houses had been turned to charred heaps by a record outbreak of wildfires.
Obama had already been a frequent Colorado visitor, which is no surprise given the state's key role in his re-election bid. He won the state by more than 8 percentage points over Republican nominee John McCain four years ago. But neither Obama's nor Romney's camp expects that big a margin this time. Recent polls place Obama's lead inside the margin of error.
But for one more day, at least, electoral considerations remained on the back burner.
"This weekend I hope everyone takes some time for prayer and reflection," Obama said in his Saturday broadcast, "for the victims of this terrible tragedy, for the people who knew them and loved them, for those who are still struggling to recover."