Saying that "we stand with you and are here for you," President Barack Obama laid a wreath at a makeshift memorial at the downtown Orlando performing arts center Thursday afternoon in remembrance of the victims of the worst mass shooting in modern American history.
"Their grief is beyond description," Obama said, with Vice President Joe Biden at his side on the front lawn of the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center.
The City of Orlando had been "shaken by an evil, hateful act," but today, "most of all, there is love," Obama said.
- WEEKEND VIGIL: Downtown Orlando memorial, candlelight procession to Lake Eola
- FULL COVERAGE: Victim profiles, interactive timeline in our special section on the Pulse shooting
"After the worst of humanity reared its evil head, the best of humanity came roaring back. Now, if we're honest with ourselves and we do in fact want to show the best of humanity then we're all going to have to work together at every level — government, across political lines, to stop killers who want to terrorize us," Obama said.
Obama and Biden also laid bouquets of flowers among the growing memorial of mylar balloons, flowers, candles, pictures and posters at the DPAC.
"Those who defend the easy accessibility of assault weapons should meet these families," Obama said. He said he held grieving parents, and "they don't care about politics. Neither do I. This debate needs to change."
Earlier at Amway Center, the president met privately with survivors and families of the victims of the Pulse shooting, which left 49 dead early Sunday. Before the meeting, he and Biden met with local law enforcement officials to thank them for their work.
Outside of Amway, a spokeswoman for the families of the Pulse victims said they were grateful for the president's words and visit.
“I would say that everybody left feeling comforted, and I would say on behalf of the Pulse club that resilience is probably the emotion that comes out after this,” Sara Brady said.
Salaam Bhatti, a national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, said they were "heartbroken when we heard about this tragedy. We condemn what happened, and we are praying for the victims’ friends, family, and for the speedy recovery of the injured.”
Obama and Biden arrived at Orlando International Airport before 1 p.m. Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Corrine Brown, whose Congressional district includes Pulse nightclub, arrived on Air Force One with Obama from Washington.
Waiting to greet Obama at the bottom of the stairs on a runway at Orlando Interntional was Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. Obama shook hands with Scott, and hugged Dyer, who showed him an "Orlando United" T-shirt, with a heart-shaped rainbow. He then shook hands with Jacobs.
“There’s no minimizing the impact on these families and their loss, and I know nothing that we can do will heal that wound, but I do know that having a whole community come together and having the President of the United States, President Obama come here personally, on the ground, to meet with the families sends such a healing a message to them that their loved ones mattered," Jacobs said. "It’s a healing gesture not only for the families but the entire community, especially our LGBTQ community, as well as our Hispanic community that was hit so hard by this.
"Nothing, nothing can put into words how important and helpful this is.”
Obama's motorcade, with the dignitaries and Sen. Bill Nelson, left OIA at 12:58 p.m., headed to Amway Center.
Motorists pulled over on the side of westbound Interstate 4 to watch the presidential motorcade make its way to Amway. Eastbound I-4 was cleared of traffic, and law enforcement officers blocked entrances along the president's route. Dozens of people stood on South Street to watch Obama's motorcade pull up to Amway Center.
Another two dozen Pulse victims are still hospitalized at Orlando Regional Medical Center, six in critical condition. A dozen have been discharged from ORMC, where the majority of the victims were taken because it's just down the street from the gay nightclub.
The low-profile visit is something Obama has had to do many times since entering the White House.
Obama and Biden departed OIA just before 5 p.m.