President Donald Trump said Friday he’s traveling to Florida “to meet with some of the bravest people on earth.” He’s expected to thank first responders to the horrific high school shooting and also come face-to-face with parents, survivors and others, some of whom have angrily called for firm action to prevent future assaults.
Trump tweeted that he will be meeting with people “whose lives have been totally shattered,” but did not elaborate as to his plans. White House officials have not said whether he would travel to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
He had already been slated to travel to Florida to spend the weekend at his Palm Beach estate, which is about 40 miles from Parkland.
The shooting has again thrust Trump into the role of national comforter, a position with which he has at times struggled. He did not address the nation in the hours after Wednesday’s shooting but did deliver a somber statement the following morning from the White House. In it, he directly addressed children who may feel “lost, alone, confused or even scared.”
“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.”
In Florida, parents and a notable number of students are demanding action in addition to the usual offers of “thoughts and prayers.” More than 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil Thursday night near the school, and at one point some began chanting, “No more gun! No more guns!”
Lori Alhadeff’s 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed and invoked the president’s 11-year-old son, Barron, as she angrily called for help.
“President Trump, Barron goes to school. Let’s protect Barron. And let’s also protect all these other kids,” she said on CNN, her voice raising to a shout. “You need to help us, now. We need security now for all these children. We need action, action, action!”
Trump, who frequently boasts about his support for the National Rifle Association, made no mention of gun violence or any new measure to restrict access to firearms during his Thursday remarks. He did promise to tackle school safety and “the difficult issue of mental health.”
He also tweeted that he was “working with Congress on many fronts,” offering no details
But his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third. Last year, he signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.
Police said the 19-year-old suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, killing 17 people and injuring 14 more. Investigators described him as a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media and had been expelled from the high school for “disciplinary reasons,” Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel said.
The profile photo on Cruz’s Instagram account showed a masked face wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat like those associated with Trump’s campaign. The leader of a white nationalist militia called the Republic of Florida said Cruz was a member of his group and had participated in exercises in Tallahassee. But neither the Sheriff’s Office in Tallahassee nor the Southern Poverty Law Center could confirm any link between Cruz and the militia.
The shooting was the nation’s deadliest at a school since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago.
Trump’s silence on guns on Thursday was noted with displeasure by many who are seeking tougher firearm restrictions. But the White House said the president wanted to keep his remarks focused on the victims. Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the point was “to talk about grief and show compassion in unifying the country.”
Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the National Rifle Association spent $30 million in support of his campaign.
During his brief, televised statement, Trump said he wanted to work to “create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life,” a phrase likely to resonate with his conservative base.
He pledged to work with state and local officials to “help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health,” adding that safe schools would be a key focus when he meets with governors and state attorneys general later this month.
Trump made no specific policy recommendations, and he did not answer shouted questions about guns as he exited the room.
In reacting to previous mass shootings, Trump has largely focused on mental health as a cause, dismissing questions about gun control. After a shooting at a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead, the president said, “This isn’t a guns situation.”