San Bernardino, Dec 19: The girlfriend of one of the 14 people killed in the December 2 shootings in San Bernardino said President Barack Obama immediately asked her for a hug when he came to talk with her.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, met with members of each of the 14 families in the library of Indian Springs High School yesterday night before heading to Hawaii for their annual holiday getaway.
A separate table was set up for each family, and the Obamas moved from one to the next, spending about 10 minutes with each victim's relatives. When Obama approached the table where Mandy Pifer was sitting, he said, "Words aren't enough.
How about a hug?" Pifer's boyfriend Shannon Johnson, 45, was killed in the attack. "I've been watching you give hugs," Pifer recalled telling him.
"I need a hug." "It just felt like they were really present in their conversation with me," she said. "They are sick and tired of doing these things, meeting our families."
Such meetings have become a grim ritual of Obama's presidency. Most recently, he met privately in October with families of the victims of a student gunman who killed eight classmates and a teacher at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, before turning the gun on himself.
Obama said meeting with the families in San Bernardino was a reminder "of what's good in this country." "As difficult as this time is for them and for the entire community, they're also representative of the strength and the unity and the love that exists in this community and in this country," Obama said late yesterday after the meetings with family members.
Pifer had told the Obamas about Johnson, how he loved life, his virtues and their future plans. She also shared with them what she knows about his last moments: His colleague Denise Peraza, who survived the attack, said Johnson huddled with her under a table as bullets flew across the room.
He held her close and told her, "I got you." Peraza credits Johnson with her survival, and since then the phrase "I got you" has spread across social media. When she mentioned the phrase to the Obamas, they nodded, indicating it was a story they already knew, she said.
She brought a sign stating "#IGotYou" that they all posed for a photo with. Pifer and Peraza are in the initial stages of planning a foundation in Johnson's memory.