Three years ago, on December 14, 2012, twenty-six families in Newtown, Connecticut were forever changed. Adam Lanza, walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed twenty small children and six adults. It was the worst mass shooting our country had seen since the Virginia Tech massacre — but it was perhaps the most heartbreaking. Two days after the shooting, President Obama arrived in the small town and what he did next proves what an amazing human being and exceptional leader he is.
In the book, The President’s Devotional, Joshua Dubois the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships spoke about Obama’s trip to Newtown in the aftermath of the shooting. According to him, before the president arrived in the town staffers gathered the families of victims together in classrooms at a local high school:
The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, ‘The president will be here soon.’ A few were visibly angry—so understandable that it barely needs to be said—and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.
Dubois said that after the families were all gathered in the rooms, he went to greet Obama who had arrived at the school and gave him an overview of the families in the first classroom. He recounted what happened next:
The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.
Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander-in-chief. He’d say, ‘Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,’ and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.
The former White House staffer said that the president repeated this over and over again, “like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war.” Can you imagine the strength it took to do that? Dubois continued:
The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.
It has been three years since Adam Lanza destroyed these families. Three years since we turned on the news and saw chaos in Newtown. Three years since we learned the names of the children and teachers who lost their lives on that fateful December day. Three years since we sobbed with the grieving families. And in those three years, our president has had to do this again and again while Republicans block any attempt to prevent it from happening in the future.
President Obama is an amazing leader and we are a great country, but we could do better. We might not be able to stop every single mass shooting, but we can damn sure give it a try. Call your representatives on Monday and tell them to honor the memories of those lost by passing common sense gun reform.
Featured image via YouTube