Barack Obama spends hours with grieving families

Obama expressed his sympathy for the relatives of the victims of the massacre. Picture: AP
Obama expressed his sympathy for the relatives of the victims of the massacre. Picture: AP
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Families of those killed in the California terror attack have told how US president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle spent hours consoling them and listening to their grief-stricken stories.

At a table inside the Indian Springs High School library in San Bernadino, Mandy Pifer sat alone, the last name of her boyfriend killed in the attack printed on a label in front of her.

Relatives of the 13 others murdered sat and waited anxiously, some clutching memorial service programmes with photos and biographies of their loved ones. One held the invitation to Mr Obama’s 2009 inauguration his brother-in-law had gleefully obtained.

Mr and Mrs Obama made their way from one table to the next, spending about ten minutes with each family with grief, sadness and frustration firmly on display. Some shed tears, others asked questions, but everyone received a hug.

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

For nearly three hours, the Obamas met relatives of the nine men and five women killed on 2 December when a married couple opened fire on the husband’s colleagues at an office lunch gathering in San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

American-born Syed Farook, 28, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 29, from Pakistan, pledged allegiance to a leader of the Islamic State (IS) group on Facebook, moments before the shooting, authorities said. Both were later killed in a gun battle with police.

Consoling the victims of gun violence has become a grim ritual throughout Mr Obama’s presidency.

“My brother will never get his daughter back,” said George Velasco, whose niece Yvette Velasco, 27, was killed. “But at least we know they are taking it very seriously.”

When Mr Obama approached the Velasco family’s table, he said he knew nothing he could say would comfort them, but he was sorry for their loss. Mr Velasco said how proud he had been of her work as an inspector with the county’s environmental health department.