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Obama visits families of Colorado 'Batman' massacre victims

Residents struggle with horror of cinema killings as police retrieve computer from booby-trapped home of arrested gunman.

Ted Engelmann, left, helps Yamilet Ortega, 3, and Kimberly Hernandez, 7, light candles at a memorial near the cinema in Colorado where a gunman killed at least 12 people in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent US history.
Ted Engelmann, left, helps Yamilet Ortega, 3, and Kimberly Hernandez, 7, light candles at a memorial near the cinema in Colorado where a gunman killed at least 12 people in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent US history.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama, the US president, stepped once more into the role of consoler-in-chief yesterday on a visit to distraught families of those gunned down in the shooting horror in Colorado.

While authorities gather evidence and the nation tries to fathom what drove the gunman to kill 12 people in a cinema in Aurora, Mr Obama was meeting loved ones struggling with pain and grief.

"We need to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation," Mr Obama said on Saturday during his weekly radio and internet address.

Aurora's police chief, Dan Oates, said that the families "need that kind of contact by our elected leader. It will be very powerful and it will help them. As awful as what they've been through and what they're going through has been, having the president here is very, very powerful".

On the brief visit, Mr Obama planned to meet authoritiess in Aurora, where the shots rang out at a multiplex cinema early on Friday. Twelve died and dozens were injured.

Among the dead were a six-year-old girl and a man who died on his 27th birthday - and a day before his wedding anniversary.

"I think the president coming in is a wonderful gesture," said Aurora's mayor, Steve Hogan. "He's coming in, really, to have private conversations with the families. I think that's totally appropriate."

Mr Hogan said that it "certainly means a lot to Aurora to know that the president cares".

Yesterday, police recovered a computer belonging to the gunman, James Holmes, which could provide clues to how he planned the massacre, a senior officer said.

After the Colorado stop, Mr Obama will fly to San Francisco, where today he will begin a previously scheduled three-day campaign trip that includes a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Reno, Nevada, fund-raisers in California, Oregon and Washington state, and a speech to the National Urban League convention in New Orleans.

The shock of Friday's rampage brought the sprawling and sometimes vitriolic presidential campaign to a virtual standstill.

Mr Obama cut short a political trip to Florida to return to Washington. His republican challenger Mitt Romney cancelled interviews. Both campaigns pulled ads off the air in Colorado as a mark of respect for the victims.

For Mr Obama, the unhappy task of articulating sorrow and loss has become a familiar one. Not 10 months in office, he led mourners at a service for victims of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.

In January last year, he spoke at a memorial for the six victims killed in Tucson, Arizona, when a gunman attacked congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she met constituents.

The following April, when about 300 people were killed in a multi-state series of tornadoes, Mr Obama flew to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to commiserate with residents whose homes were in ruins. A month later, he went to Joplin, Missouri, after a monster twister killed 161.

In between, have been countless private meetings with families of troops who fell in battle in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For Mr Obama, the Colorado visit is his second in just over three weeks. Last month, he flew to Colorado Springs to share the pain of homeowners whose houses had been destroyred by wildfires.

He had already been a frequent Colorado visitor, no surprise given the state's key role in his re-election bid. He won the state by more than eight percentage points over Republican nominee John McCain four years ago. But no one expects that big a margin this time.