Lamenting “once more” a deadly mass shooting, President Barack Obama assured families of the Navy Yard massacre victims at a memorial service on Sunday there was “nothing routine about this tragedy, there’s nothing routine about your loss.”
The service was held at the Washington Marine Barracks, just blocks from where authorities say Aaron Alexis shot and killed 12 Navy Yard workers on Monday afternoon and injured eight others.
"I fear there's a creeping resignation that this is somehow the new normal," Obama said. "It ought to obsess us, it ought to lead to some sort of transformation."
Charles Dharapak, AP
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, behind the president, attend a memorial service for the victims of the Washington Navy Yard shooting at Marine Barracks in Washington on Sunday.
The Washington Navy Yard was reopened Thursday, even before flags returned from their positions at half-staff at sunset on Friday, as ordered by the president after the shooting.
Alexis, 34, a former Navy reservist who had been working as a civilian contractor with access to the site, was killed by officers who responded to the shooting spree.
The president and the first lady visited with the families of the victims — fathers and mothers, Navy veterans and civilians, who ranged in age from 46 to 73.
The service was not open to the public, but some 4,000 people were invited, barracks spokesman Capt. Jack Norton told The Associated Press.
All of the victims’ names were read at the ceremony, and Obama spoke about each individual who lost a life, recounting details about their families and passions.
“Once again, we remember fellow Americans who were just going about their day,” Obama said on Sunday, “Once more, we come together to mourn the lives of family.… Once more, we pay tribute to those who rush toward the danger.… Once more, our hearts are broken.… Once more, we ask ‘why.’ … Once more, we seek strength and wisdom through God’s grace.”
Victims of the Navy Yard shooting, clockwise from top left: John Roger Johnson, Frank Kohler, Vishnu (Kisan) B. Pandit, Richard Michael "Mike" Ridgell, Arthur Daniels, Martin "Marty" Bodrog, Kenneth Proctor and Kathy Gaarde.
His statement mirrored the remarks he gave just nine months earlier, after 20 children and six adults were shot and killed at a school in Newtown, Conn.
“As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora,” Obama said in December, listing the times during his presidency when he has stood before the nation to express his sorrow and provide comfort.
Before then, the president also offered consolation to families of victims of shootings in Binghamton, N.Y; Tucson, Arizona and Fort Hood, Texas — the three tragedies left 31 innocent people dead.
Two weeks after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Obama said in an interview with NBC’s David Gregory, “That was the worst day of my presidency, and it's not something that I want to see repeated.”
On Saturday night, at an awards dinner for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the president once again lamented some of the shooting tragedies. He also called for action against an outbreak of violence in his home city of Chicago, which started on Thursday when 13 people, including a 3-year-old, were injured in a single shooting spree.
On Sunday, the president spoke directly to the families of the victims, “I’m here today to say that there’s nothing routine about this tragedy, there’s nothing routine about your loss,” but he continued, “Sometimes, I fear there’s a creeping resignation … that this is somehow the new normal.”
Obama said “these mass shootings occur against a backdrop of daily shootings,” come “about because of decisions we make or fail to make.”
He said gun murders in the United States are 10 times more prevalent than they are in other developed nations.
“What’s different in America is that it’s easy to get your hand on a gun,” he said. "As long as there are those who fight to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to get their hands on a gun, then we've got to work as hard as possible for the sake of our children.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray was even less subtle on Sunday. “Our country is drowning in a sea of guns,” he said.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also offered their sympathies to the families and words of comfort to the nation.
First published September 22 2013, 3:07 PM