Obama comforts families of victims of San Bernardino shooting

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- The girlfriend of one of the 14 people killed in the Dec. 2 shootings in San Bernardino said President Barack Obama immediately asked her for a hug when he came to talk with her.

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Obama and his wife, Michelle, met with members of each of the 14 families in the library of Indian Springs High School on Friday night before heading to Hawaii for their annual holiday getaway. A separate table was set up for each family, and the Obamas moved from one to the next, spending about 10 minutes with each victim's relatives.

When Obama approached the table where Mandy Pifer was sitting, he said, "Words aren't enough. How about a hug?"

Pifer's boyfriend Shannon Johnson, 45, was killed in the attack.

"I've been watching you give hugs," Pifer recalled telling him. "I need a hug."

"It just felt like they were really present in their conversation with me," she said. "They are sick and tired of doing these things, meeting our families."

Such meetings have become a grim ritual of Obama's presidency. Most recently, he met privately in October with families of the victims of a student gunman who killed eight classmates and a teacher at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, before turning the gun on himself.

Obama said meeting with the families in San Bernardino was a reminder "of what's good in this country."

"As difficult as this time is for them and for the entire community, they're also representative of the strength and the unity and the love that exists in this community and in this country," Obama said late Friday after the meetings with family members.

Pifer had told the Obamas about Johnson, how he loved life, his virtues and their future plans. She also shared with them what she knows about his last moments: His colleague Denise Peraza, who survived the attack, said Johnson huddled with her under a table as bullets flew across the room. He held her close and told her, "I got you."

Peraza credits Johnson with her survival, and since then the phrase "I got you" has spread across social media.

When she mentioned the phrase to the Obamas, they nodded, indicating it was a story they already knew, she said. She brought a sign stating ".IGotYou" that they all posed for a photo with. Pifer and Peraza are in the initial stages of planning a foundation in Johnson's memory.

"I feel like they're on my side," she said. "They're on our side. And that he's going to keep working to make this better even after he's left office. It's personal for them."

The Obamas encouraged her to reach out and promised to provide whatever support they could.

"Mrs. Obama she did say that she would rap or perform at our fundraising concert," Pifer said. "I will try to make her keep her word on that."

Pifer said the Obamas' visit was helpful.

"It's helping the grieving process," Pifer said. "It was very comforting."

Obama said the family members were "inspiring" as they spoke with pride about their loved ones.

"As we go into the holiday season, even as we are vigilant about preventing terrorist attacks from happening, even as we insist we can't accept the notion of mass shootings in public places, in places of work and worship, we have to remind ourselves of the overwhelming good that exists out there," he said.

Most of the 14 people killed at the holiday banquet worked with Farook in the San Bernardino County public health department. Nine men and five women, ranging in age from 26 to 60, were killed.

In the aftermath of the massacre, families of those killed have grieved while also slowly learning the unsettling details about the couple, American-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, of Pakistan, who killed their loved ones.

The FBI is investigating the case as an act of terrorism. The couple pledged allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State group on Facebook, moments before the shooting, authorities said. But they have found no evidence that the Farook and Malik were carrying out instructions from an overseas terrorist group or that they were part of a U.S.-based conspiracy. Both Farook and Malik were later killed in a gunfight with police.

The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for the Nov. 13 attack in Paris that killed 130 people. Both attacks, happening so close to the holidays, heightened public fears about terrorism on U.S. soil.


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