An aide placed a note in front of the president on the ornate wooden table in the Roosevelt Room. Somberly, he informed the roomful of cringing newly elected mayors that there had been a school shooting and the details were scarce.
The scene on Friday at the White House, just before Saturday’s one-year anniversary of the horrifying school shooting in Newtown, Conn., came after a student at a Colorado high school critically wounded another student before fatally shooting himself. It was eerily reminiscent for the President Barack Obama and his aides to the day when the most powerful man in the world learned of horror in small-town New England and was powerless to stop it. The day he cried in the Oval Office. The day Obama called “the worst day of my presidency.”
“Whenever a situation arises — whether it’s a tornado, terrorist attack, hurricane, active shooter situation, or wildfire — there are processes in place to brief the President and coordinate a response to ensure the local leaders and first responders are receiving the support they need,” a White House spokesman, Bobby Whithorne, told TIME.
“We’re planning for the worst but hoping for the best,” a White House official said. “There’s no question these situations are heart wrenching. All of us see families and communities torn apart in the matter of minutes, but our sole focus, from the President on down, is to do everything we can to support the first responders saving lives and keeping folks out of harms way.”
Tuscon, Aurora, and Oak Creek are events that have become indelibly etched into the psyche of the Obama White House. Moments that have shocked a nation and demanded maybe the most difficult of presidential duties: healer-in-chief.
But school shootings are different, aides, especially since Newtown, where 20 children and six adults died before the gunman killed himself. Aides say that for Obama, like millions around the country, moments like Friday’s shooting bring out the gut-wrenching anger and confusion that it’s happening again. That another parent is losing a child.
“This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we’ll tell them that we love them, and we’ll remind each other how deeply we love one another,” Obama said hours after the Newtown shooting from the White house, wiping back tears.
Speaking at a tearful memorial service days later in Newtown, Obama said a society is judged by how it cares for its children. “We’re not doing enough — and we will have to change.”
After an angry speech in April objecting to a “shameful” Senate vote against a gun control measure, Obama has conceded that nothing is likely to happen on that front in this Congress. One year later after Newtown, as the Obama and the First Lady lit candles in memory of each of the slain that fateful day, the president’s efforts to tighten gun laws and fix a broken mental health system have gone unfulfilled, and the notes keep coming.