Obama calls for healing, meets with Orlando families

Josh Lederman
Associated Press

Orlando, Fla. — A community numb from three tragedies paused Thursday to remember victims of the gay dance club massacre, with mourners gathering for one of the first funerals and the president and vice president laying wreaths to honor the dead.

A flag flew at half-staff at a cemetery in the nearby city of Kissimmee and a black hearse carried the body of Kimberly “KJ” Morris. She worked as a bouncer at Pulse, where 49 people were killed after Omar Mateen began shooting into the crowd early Sunday.

Jessica Frazier, 29, of Orlando was among the mourners at Morris’ funeral, held as other shooting victims were being cremated.

“She was always very positive, no matter what was going on,” Frazier said.

Closer to the scene of the tragedy, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden knelt to place white flowers at a memorial to the victims. They also met privately with survivors and victims’ families, the club owner and staff.

Embracing grieving Orlando families and appealing anew for national action, Obama claimed a threat to all Americans’ security Thursday as a strong reason to tighten U.S. gun laws. Counterterror campaigns overseas, he declared, can never prevent all “lone wolf” attacks like the one that killed the 49 people at Pulse.

Speaking at a makeshift memorial to the victims, Obama said the massacre at a gay nightclub was evidence that “different steps” are needed to limit the damage a “deranged” person set on committing violence can do.

The president’s calls for solidarity stood in contrast to the sharp-edged political debate in Washington and the presidential campaign trail that continued during Obama’s visit.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, a Republican and frequent Obama critic, accused the president of being “directly responsible” for the shooting because, he said, Obama had allowed the growth of the Islamic State group on his watch. But he later issued a statement saying that he “misspoke.”

“I did not mean to imply that the president was personally responsible. I was referring to President Obama’s national security decisions, not the president himself,” McCain said in his statement, issued as his initial comments were drawing heated criticism from Democrats.

The gunman, Omar Mateen, killed 49 people and injured more than 50 in the attack at a gay nightclub. The 29-year-old Muslim born in New York made calls during the attack saying he was a supporter of the Islamic State. But he also spoke about an affiliate of al-Qaida and Hezbollah, both of which are IS enemies.

Elsewhere in the city and in Washington, investigators were working to reconstruct the movements of the shooter before he opened fire at the dance club, including what his wife may have known about the attack.

The nightclub slaughter was the bloodiest event amid days of horror in Orlando. A 2-year-old Nebraska boy was attacked by an alligator and killed at Walt Disney World on Tuesday, and 22-year-old Christina Grimmie, a one-time contestant on NBC’s “The Voice,” was shot dead days earlier while signing autographs after a show by a man who then killed himself.

The president spent roughly two hours talking privately with victims’ families and survivors of the attack in a gay dance club. He told them he was inspired by their courage.

Fla. aftermath

CIA Director John Brennan says the agency has found no connection between the Orlando gunman and any foreign terrorist organization.

Testifying before the Senate intelligence committee on Thursday, Brennan said the Islamic State will continue to try to inspire lone wolf attacks.

■In the final hours of his life, Orlando gunman Omar Mateen apparently made a series of Facebook posts in which he raged against the “filthy ways of the west,” according to a Senate committee.

As the grief-stricken city of Orlando prepares to bury the first of the 49 who perished at the Pulse dance club, a Senate Committee has asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg for help uncovering the trail of hate Mateen left behind in cyberspace.

Chicago police say the massacre at a gay nightclub in Florida has prompted the department to beef up security at this weekend’s gay pride festival and next weekend’s gay pride parade.

Detroit News wire services