Both the president and his challenger strike a somber note as politics is suspended in the wake of Friday morning's mass movie-theater shooting.
Updated 1:08 p.m.
President Obama addressed the mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, at a previously scheduled campaign stop in Florida Friday morning, striking a somber note and calling for a timeout from the political fray.
"There are going to be other days for politics," Obama said. "This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection."
Jarringly, the crowd of supporters at the auditorium in the Gulf Coast town of Fort Myers clapped and cheered. Obama has canceled an afternoon campaign stop scheduled for the Orlando area to return to Washington, and his campaign has asked Colorado stations to take its negative ads off the air.
Obama, in his remarks on the tragedy, focused on the fragility of life and the importance of cherishing family and relationships.
"Such violence, such evil is senseless. It's beyond reason," he said. "But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living."
The victims, he said, "loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers, they were husbands and wives, they were sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled. If there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious."
The seriousness of the news seemed to throw the incessant, petty back-and-forth of the campaign into sharp relief, and Obama alluded to that sentiment.
"What matters, at the end of the day, is not the small things. It's not the trivial things that so often consume us in our daily lives," he said. "Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another, how we love one another."
The president also struck a personal note. "I'm sure many of you who are parents here had the same reaction I did when I heard this news," he said. "My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight, and I'm sure you will do the same with your children. For those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we'll be there for them as a nation."
Obama bowed his head in a brief moment of silence, and asked Americans to keep the people of Aurora in their prayers. "May the Lord bring them comfort and healing in hard days to come," he said.
Obama's challenger, Mitt Romney, addressed the shooting at a noon event in New Hampshire. His campaign also said it had pulled all its ads from the Colorado airwaves.
Romney sought to give hope amid the day's pain, saying the response to the tragedy was a reminder of America's strength.
"This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another, and how much we love, how much we care for our great country," he said, speaking before a subdued outdoor audience on an overcast day in Bow, N.H. "There is so much love and goodness in the heart of America."
Romney called for togetherness. "Today we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also a sense of helplessness," he said. "But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy laden, and we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado."
Romney was introduced by a priest and quoted from the Bible. He repeatedly expressed hope that the grieving would find comfort in God.
"Today is a moment to grief and to remember, to reach out and to help, to appreciate our blessings in life. Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer, linger a bit longer with a colleague or a neighbor, reach out to a family member or friend," he said. "We'll all spend a little less time thinking about the worries of our day and more time wondering how to help those in need of compassion most. The answer is that we can come together, and we'll show our fellow citizens the good heart of the America we know and love."
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