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Aurora Shooting Is 'Evil, Sensless; Beyond Reason'


Police soon arrested a suspect, and they were still searching suspect's apartment when President Obama stepped before a crowd this morning in Fort Myers, Florida. It was a political campaign event. It was supposed to be, but the president said it was not a day for campaigning.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And if there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited, and it is precious. And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things. It's not the trivial things which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.

INSKEEP: President Obama this morning in Fort Myers, Florida, responding to the shooting last night in Aurora, Colorado outside Denver, where a dozen people were killed at a movie theater.

We're going to talk about this a bit more with NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving, who's in our studios, along with NPR's Carrie Johnson, the Justice correspondent.

And Carrie, how closely is the president following this event, moment by moment, hour by hour?

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Steve, we know the president was informed of this event around 5:30 this morning by one of his senior national security advisers, and he has been keeping close tabs since that time on the course of the investigation, which is continuing, as you said, to unfold. There are federal and local authorities all over the movie theater, all over the suspect's apartment, and they're trying to find answers to a lot of questions at this point.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember the basics about the suspect, what we believe we know, according to law enforcement officials starting, with his name.

JOHNSON: His name is James Holmes. He's 24 years old, and he seems to have, at this point, no known ties to terrorism, no military background whatsoever. Authorities are trying to figure out how he allegedly got a hold of four weapons they found in the movie theater - those are a rifle, a shotgun and two pistols - trying to find out whether those were illegally purchased, where and when, whether he had any help at all, allegedly, in carrying out this act.

INSKEEP: Now, you say whether he had any help at all. We should stress, so far there's no sign of any connection, right? There's been nothing to suggest that there's more than one person involved in this incident.

JOHNSON: Absolutely. Federal law enforcement authorities are telling me he appears at this stage to have acted alone, but they are, to be sure, mining every inch of his background to find out who he was talking to - or allegedly talking to - in the months before this episode.

INSKEEP: Now, is this the kind of investigation where the FBI might actually throw hundreds of people on the case? Or is it primarily going to be the local authorities who would take the lead here?

JOHNSON: At this point we're hearing that the Aurora Police Department, the local police department is leading the investigation with lots of help from the FBI and the ATF - which, of course is, is an expert in explosives and weapons.

INSKEEP: Now let's bring in Ron Elving to the conversation - Ron, NPR's senior Washington editor. Ron, you've listened to the eyewitness testimony out of Colorado. You've listened to the president's response. What goes through your mind as you listen to all that?

RON ELVING, BYLINE: That we can't really ever know what the news of a given day is going to be. The president had a planned day in Florida. He was going to give a rip-roaring, kind of super-political speech, a campaign rally speech in Fort Myers this morning. He came out earlier than he expected to and gave a completely different kind of address - a sobering almost, ministerial kind of address, where he talked to people on a totally different level and played the role that we sometimes assign to our president in tragic moments of being the gatherer of the family, the senior figure.

We don't have a king. We don't have a queen. We have a president who functions both as the political leader and also as the head of state. And in these moments - the Challenger tragedy in 1986, the Columbia tragedy in 2003 - we look to the president to symbolize our grief and our mourning, and also to try to find some moment of meaning in it and to make it reflect back on our personal lives.



You know, Ron, when you think about those previous tragedies and the sort of astonishingly, you know, awful way people felt on the day, how does that affect something like a campaign going forward? Does it really change the dynamics? Does it even change the subject?

ELVING: In some respects, you would wish that it would, that perhaps it would lend a certain seriousness, substantive-ness to the continuing political dialogue that will come after. That isn't necessarily always the case. When Ronald Reagan gave his famous speech about the Challenger in 1986, he was in his second term. He didn't run again in 1988, and it really wasn't an issue in 1988. I think we could say the same of George W. Bush, who gave a moving speech in 2003, but it didn't really become part of the campaign in 2004.

This is so much more in the midst of the actual friction of this particular campaign. And we do expect to hear from former Governor Romney later today. He's already given a written statement, very moving statement, and I suspect he will want to speak later today in New Hampshire to this, as well. But it will then be a contest of serious statements from these gentlemen - who are such contestants all the rest of the time. They will be in agreement on the emotions of this day.

INSKEEP: But there's another thing they're at agreement on, and maybe this points to why it might not change the campaign too much: As you pointed out, people will raise the issue of gun control here, but this is not an issue where they want to be seen as disagreeing, necessarily.

ELVING: It is not something that this administration has taken on, even though many people expected them to, and certainly many gun rights supporters expected them to. It is not an issue we expect to see joined in the campaign.

INSKEEP: Ron, thanks very much.

ELVING: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Ron Elving is NPR's senior Washington editor. We also heard from NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks to you.

A dozen people dead overnight in Aurora, Colorado. We'll bring you more as we learn it on MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for NPR.org.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.