LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - A sombre President Donald Trump visited Las Vegas on Wednesday to express the sorrow and shock felt by a nation reeling from the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, telling those whose loved ones died, “You’re not alone.”
Sunday night’s attack by a gunman who killed 58 people and wounded more than 500 before killing himself “fills America’s heart with grief,” Trump said. “America is truly a nation in mourning.”
Trump’s remarks came at the end of a visit to the city during which the president and first lady Melania Trump met with survivors of the shooting spree, doctors, law enforcement officers and other first responders.
Speaking at the Las Vegas Police Department’s command centre, Trump addressed those grieving over the loss of loved ones in the attack.
“We know that your sorrow feels endless. We stand together to help you carry your pain,” Trump said. “You’re not alone. We will never leave your side.”
The day served as yet another test of Trump’s capacity to serve as the nation’s comforter-in-chief, coming after he travelled to storm-battered Puerto Rico a day earlier.
There, he occasionally veered from expressions of sympathy, as when he said the recovery from Hurricane Maria was blowing the U.S. budget “a little out of whack.”
But in Las Vegas, Trump stayed on message and tried, at times, to elevate his rhetoric.
“We cannot be defined by the evil that threatens us or the violence that incites such terror,” he said. “We’re defined by our love, our caring, and our courage. In the darkest moments, what shines most brightly is the goodness that thrives in the hearts of our people.”
Earlier in the day, Trump praised the bravery of survivors who risked their lives to help other victims as bullets rained down from a nearby hotel during the shooting spree.
At University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Trump said he met with some patients who were “very, very badly wounded, and they were badly wounded because they refused to leave. They wanted to help others because they saw people going down all over.”
Trump’s trip to the city was the first time he has had to deal directly with the aftermath of a major shooting of the type that have killed hundreds of people in recent years in the United States.
At the hospital, however, Trump deflected a question about whether the United States has a problem with gun violence.
“We’re not going to talk about that today,” he said.
Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old retiree with no criminal record, was identified as the gunman in the attack, spraying bullets at an open-air concert from the window of his suite in the high-rise Mandalay Bay hotel.
Trump’s motorcade passed the hotel during the drive to the hospital.
Paddock killed himself as police closed in. In a visit with law enforcement officers, Trump asked Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo whether the investigation had made progress in determining Paddock’s motive for the attack.
“It’s still a little bit soon,” Lombardo replied. “We have a couple of good leads. ... We are going to get there.”
Reporting by Steve Holland in Las Vegas; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Jeff Mason and James Oliphant; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry