Obama flies to console mourners after Orlando mass shooting

Barack Obama looks at a T-shirt that was presented to him by Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer (centre). Picture: PA
Barack Obama looks at a T-shirt that was presented to him by Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer (centre). Picture: PA
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President Barack Obama has visited Orlando to console those mourning the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history.

Air Force One touched down at midday, with Mr Obama spending a few hours meeting in private with families of the 49 victims, survivors and local law enforcement officials who responded to the shooting.

He planned to emphasise his solidarity with Orlando’s gays and lesbians but did not propose to make a major speech or make a call to action.

The low-profile visit reflected the challenge for the president to find something meaningful to say about an attack that has stoked a wide mix of fears. Even as the families of the victims bury their loved ones, it’s unclear what led a 29-year-old Muslim born in New York to open fire in a gay nightclub where he may have been a frequent patron early on Sunday.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Mr Obama would deal with the ambiguity in the Florida shooting by focusing on the victims.

“The president’s visit to Orlando has nothing to do with the individual who perpetrated this terrible attack,” he said and added that Mr Obama intended to tell residents “that they’re not alone, even as they endure what surely have been several dark nights”.

The president’s call for rejecting bigotry against gays and lesbians is complicated by the possibility that the gunman, Omar Mateen, may have been wrestling with his own sexuality. The FBI has been looking into reports that Mateen frequented the nightspot and reached out to men on gay dating apps.

Mr Obama intended to focus on making the visit a moment of solidarity.

Florida governor Rick Scott, a Republican frequently at odds with Mr Obama, greeted the president on the tarmac upon his arrival.

In Congress, the attack has spurred another bitter fight over gun control, exposing deep frustration among supporters of stricter gun laws.

Democratic senator Chris Murphy, whose state of Connecticut shouldered the killing of 20 children in Newtown in 2012, undertook a roughly 15-hour filibuster that lasted into the early hours of yesterday. Mr Murphy said GOP leaders had committed to hold votes on expanded gun background checks.