President Barack Obama has returned to Washington after suspending political campaigning in response to the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. The president has ordered flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims of the tragedy.
Obama arrived after the flight on Air Force One to Andrews Air Force Base from Florida, where he was to have held two re-election campaign events. A few minutes later, his helicopter touched down on the White House South lawn, and the president, looking somber, walked into the Oval Office.
Obama learned of the shootings early Friday. He spoke by telephone with the mayor of Aurora and with Colorado's governor and pledged the full support of his administration to the people of the town.
In Fort Meyers, he called for prayer and reflection, and said the tragic shootings are a reminder to people of the importance of remaining united as "one American family."
"While we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living," the president said. "The people lost in Aurora loved and they were loved. They were mothers and fathers, they were husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled."
Obama said if there is anything to take away from the tragedy, it is the importance of how people treat and love one another. He said he and his wife Michelle were thinking of their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and parents of the victims as they heard the terrible news from Colorado.
"Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight and I am sure you will do the same with your children, but for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation," he said.
Saying "there are going to be other days for politics," he and supporters observed about half a minute of silence.
The White House announced that Obama, the first lady, and Vice President Joe Biden canceled all campaign events for the time being. The Obama and Romney campaigns suspended the airing of political ads on television in Colorado.
Likely Republican nominee Romney spoke in New Hampshire. "Today is a moment to grieve, and to remember, to reach out and to help, to appreciate our blessings in life," he said.
In Aurora, a police spokesman said the investigation into the shooting, alleged to have been carried out by 24-year-old James Eagan Holmes, is just beginning.
"We have information as to what occurred in the theater base on the roughly 200 interviews that we have made and we have ballistic evidence inside that suggests how this shooting went down but we have so much investigation to do and that is the kind of evidence for a prosecution not for a discussion at this time," he said.
Obama issued a proclamation late Friday ordering all flags to be flown at half-staff to honor the victims of the Colorado shootings. The incident took place a short distance from Columbine, Colorado, where 12 students and one teacher were murdered by gunmen in a shooting spree at a high school.
There are already renewed calls for re-examination of gun control laws. The shootings in Aurora occurred a little over a year-and-a-half after shootings in Tucson, Arizona that killed six people and left many wounded, including a U.S. congresswoman.
Obama delivered a memorable speech after that tragedy, calling on Americans to show more "kindness, generosity and compassion" to one another and for more civility in the national political discourse.