In meeting with Obama, victim families share tears, stories - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

In meeting with Obama, victim families share tears, stories

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Obama is meeting with families of the victims of a mass shooting that struck the community. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) Obama is meeting with families of the victims of a mass shooting that struck the community. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (AP) — At a table inside the Indian Springs High School library, Mandy Pifer sat alone, the last name of her boyfriend killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack printed on a label in front of her.

Nearby, relatives of the 13 other people killed sat and waited anxiously. Some clutched memorial service programs with the photos and biographies of their deceased. One held the invitation to President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration his brother-in-law had gleefully obtained.

Pifer wrote out a sign with the words, "I got you."

When President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama entered the room and made their way from one table to the next, spending about 10 minutes with each family Friday evening, the grief, sadness and frustration of the last 17 days were firmly on display.

Some shed tears. Others asked questions. Everyone got a hug.

"It just felt like they were really present in their conversation with me," Pifer said. "They are sick and tired of doing these things, meeting our families."

For nearly three hours, the Obamas met with relatives of the nine men and five women killed Dec. 2 when a married couple opened fire on the husband's colleagues at a work holiday gathering in San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Consoling the victims of gun violence has become a grim ritual throughout Obama's presidency. The meeting Friday came as some families are still burying their dead.

"My brother will never get his daughter back," said George Velasco, whose niece, Yvette Velasco, 27, was killed. "But at least we know they are taking it very seriously."

When Obama approached the Velasco's family table, he told the family he knew nothing he could say would ever truly comfort them, but that he was sincerely sorry for their loss, Velasco said. The family showed the president a picture of Yvette Velasco on a cellphone and her father told Obama how proud he had been of her work as an inspector with the county Department of Environmental Health.

Obama told them he and his wife were parents too and that, "they cannot imagine a loss like ours."

"I couldn't believe that he was spending that much time with us," Velasco said. "It was heartfelt. I could feel it. It was something he really felt and believed."

The mood in the room was somber, though each family seemed to perk up when Obama arrived at their table. When Obama reached the family of Isaac Amanios, he asked the 60-year-old health inspector's wife about how long they had been married and about his three children about their lives.

He told Amanios' children that they were his father's legacy.

The family gave Obama a copy of a pamphlet with Amanios' photo and biography that was handed out at his memorial service. They also showed him the invitation Amanios had received to attend the president's 2009 inauguration. Amanios had raised money for Obama's 2008 campaign, even though the immigrant from Eritrea was still not eligible to vote, his brother-in-law, Robel Tekleab, said.

Obama made a joke about how cold it had been that 2009 day and the family laughed.

"I know it helped tonight," Tekleab said. "I can't speak about the future. But it certainly did a great thing tonight."

Pifer sat at one of the last tables Obama and his wife visited. While she waited, she wrote out a sign with her boyfriend Shannon's Johnson's final words. Johnson's colleague, Denise Peraza, who survived the attack, said Johnson huddled with her under a table that morning 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. Pifer and Peraza are in the final stages of planning a foundation in Johnson's memory.

Pifer told the president about Johnson and how much he loved life. They promised to provide whatever support they could and Michelle Obama even said she would rap or perform at a fundraising concert for the foundation, Pifer said.

"I feel like they're on my side," she said. "They're on our side. And that he's going to keep working to make this better even after he's left office. It's personal for them."

Pifer said the Obamas' visit was helpful.

"It's helping the grieving process," Pifer said. "It was very comforting."

___

This story has been corrected to reflect that Pifer and Peraza are planning a foundation, not Johnson.


 

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