LEWISTON, Maine — President Joe Biden offered both comforting and lighthearted words Friday to families of victims and survivors nine days after the shooting here that killed 18 people and injured 13 others at a bowling alley and bar.
The wife of Josh Seal, a leader in the deaf community and father of four who died while playing cornhole with friends at Schemengees Bar and Grille Restaurant, was among those who met Friday evening with the president and his wife, Jill Biden, at Geiger Elementary School, after the couple visited both mass shooting locations and also met with first responders.
“All I have to say is that the President and the First Lady had kind and comforting words to say to our family and gave my kids something to look forward to,” Elizabeth Seal wrote in a text message.
Maine got a close look at the Democratic president playing a role as consoler in chief. Grief has always been central to Biden’s political profile, from the car accident that killed his wife and daughter just after Delaware elected him to the U.S. Senate in 1972 to the death of his son, Beau Biden, toward the end of his vice presidency in 2015.
“No pain’s the same. But we know what it’s like to lose a piece of our soul in the depths of a loss that is so profound,” Biden said in Friday remarks outside Just-In-Time Recreation, the bowling alley that was also targeted in the shooting. “Some of us have been there.”
Ryan Dalessandro, who survived the shooting at Schemengees, estimated about 75 to 100 people were in the elementary school on Friday. Victims’ families and survivors were in a room with Maine politicians before each family went one by one to meet with the Bidens.
“He told me that I had gone through hell and PTSD is real,” Dalessandro said in a text message.
Dalessandro got a laugh out of what the president did next. Biden looked at Dalessandro’s wife and then back at him, telling the man, “You and I have something in common.”
“Oh yeah?” Dalessandro replied.
“We both married above our station,” Biden told him.
Dalessandro’s wife, Becky, then chimed in to say both she and the first lady are educators. Jill Biden appreciated hearing his wife say she is a literacy coach and followed with “some education jargon I couldn’t follow,” the shooting survivor said.
Biden left flowers at a memorial outside Schemengees, where he hugged owner Kathy Lebel. Crosses, candles and carved pumpkins made up the roadside display outside the bar on Lincoln Street. Several Lewiston residents said they appreciated the president’s visit, though they wished it occurred under brighter circumstances.
“He’s taking time to come down here with all that’s happening in the world,” Paul Champagne, a Lewiston resident, told the Associated Press.
The president stuck to focusing more on victims rather than policy or legislation in his comments Friday. After the Oct. 25 shooting, he reiterated his desire to see Congress pass a ban on assault-style weapons like the one police was used last week by the gunman, Robert R. Card II, a 40-year-old Army reservist from Bowdoin whose declining mental health raised alarms from family and fellow reservists in the months leading up to the shooting.
“Jill and I are here on behalf of the American people to grieve with you and make sure you know that you’re not alone,” Biden said in his remarks.