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Nov. 3—After meeting with the president at Geiger Elementary School, Auburn City Councilor Leroy Walker, who lost his son, said Biden was very soft spoken and mostly listened to families had to say.
"Everyone seemed pretty calm and settled down," Walker said.
He said about 80 people were sitting at a dozen tables. Jill Biden spoke with each family first, followed by the president.
The room was quiet, he said, save for some tears from families and young children.
Walker said Biden did not inject politics into the discussion. Instead he empathized with those who lost loved ones.
"Whatever was in his heart seemed to work OK with people," he said. "I'm really glad he came here. I think it did really help, not just us, but the community."
Inside Geiger Elementary School on Friday evening families sat around tables in plastic folding chairs awaiting the presidents arrival.
They sipped cans of Brisk iced tea and picked at plates of fruit and cheese. It was a quiet scene.
President Biden walked in without making remarks and immediately sat with families. He spent at least 15 minutes with each family at their tables and spoke quietly with individual family members. He sometimes dabbed at his eyes with a tissue while he spoke.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, D — 2nd District, was not in attendance along with other members of Maine's Congressional delegation when the president delivered remarks outside Just-in-Time Friday afternoon, but released a statement on Biden's visit to Lewiston.
"I appreciate the President's visit to my hometown of Lewiston following last week's tragedy," the statement said. "I know it will mean so much to my constituents and neighbors that he is there on behalf of the entire nation to express deep sorrow and support for the families of the victims, for the wounded, and for all who are suffering the pain of this terrible shooting.
"I feel, like all Mainers, a deep sadness for our community but I also find comfort in knowing the strength and resiliency of the Maine spirit which has been on full display these past few days.
While I am not traveling with the President, I will be home in Lewiston with my family this weekend before returning to do my duty in Congress next week. I want to express my family's love for the town we call home and for the surrounding communities. I stand ready to provide any service to the victims of this tragedy and to support the community at large. Please do not hesitate to contact my office at any time."
Standing outside of Schemengees Bar & Grille, Jenny Fogg said that even though she wasn't able to catch a glimpse of Biden as she had hoped, she's glad the president made the trip to Maine following the shooting.
"It feels like we have some support," said Fogg, 29.
Fogg lives less than half a mile from Schemengees. During the manhunt she huddled in her apartment, terrified, staring out her window at the police cars outside and reading the news, she said.
"I felt very unsafe. I didn't leave my house until they found him," she said, referring to the shooter, Robert Card, who was found dead Friday.
Even though Card is no longer a danger to the community, Fogg said she feels a lingering sense of fear.
Fogg loves living in Lewiston and often goes to bars in the area to shoot pool.
Now she doesn't know when she'll feel comfortable going to bars and restaurants again.
"I don't want to be scared. I feel like people who commit acts of terror want you to be scared," she said. "But it's scary times."
Fogg said she blames the mental health system, which she believes failed Card, and weak gun laws that allowed Card to purchase and retain semi-automatic weapon despite his mental health challenges and threats he made about committing violent acts.
President Biden's motorcade arrived at Geiger Elementary School to meet privately with family members of the shooting victims.
President Biden delivered remarks outside Just-in-Time Recreation shortly after 4 p.m. after meeting with first responders.
"We'll never forget the trauma they experienced," the president said. "I can't express how much we appreciate what they did."
He also thanked nurses and doctors who cared for victims on Oct. 25 ahead of meeting with families of victims and survivors.
"As we mourn today in Maine, this tragedy opens painful wounds all across the country. Too many Americans have lost loved ones or survived the trauma of gun violence," Biden said. "I know because Jill and I have met with them in Buffalo, in Uvalde, in Monterey Park, in Sandy Hook. Too many to count."
"Jill and I are here on behalf of the American people, to grieve with you and to make sure you know you're not alone," the president told those gathered outside the bowling alley.
The president did not discuss any specific policy initiatives in the wake of the tragedy, but said the U.S. is in need of "commonsense, reasonable, responsible measures to protect our children, our families, our communities."
"Regardless of our politics, this is about protecting our freedom to go to a bowling alley, a restaurant, a school, a church, without being shot and killed," he said.
Members of Maine's congressional delegation, Gov. Janet Mills and Lewiston Mayor Carl Sheline also spoke outside the bowling alley.
Sheline also thanked first responders and said the city has "risen up to meet the moment" in the wake of the tragedy. "Lewiston is a magnificent city and our collective strength is far greater than any number of bullets," Sheline said.
Local officials also thanked the president and Jill Biden for coming to Lewiston to mourn with the city and state.
"I want to express my deep gratitude to the president and first lady for being here," said U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. "It means so much to this community and to the entire state of Maine."
U.S. Sen. Angus King, who was also in attendance, said there is "little we can do or say to ease the pain of a tragedy like this."
"But we have to start by acknowledging it and committing ourselves to the sacred duty of remembering those we have lost," King said. "Today is about remembrance."
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said that she and Rep. Jared Golden, who represents Maine's 2nd Congressional District, including Lewiston, were embraced by colleagues from all over the country in the U.S. House this week.
"All of them said they were watching what was going on in Maine every second of the way, and they were there to help us and support us in any way," Pingree said.
She said Maine "feels like a very small town," and that around the state, the shootings shattered people's sense of safety. "We can't let that happen again," Pingree said.
Mills also thanked the Bidens for joining the state in mourning and remembering the victims. "Out of this darkness, I believe there is light, I believe there is hope," Mills said. "I see it in the people of Lewiston, a people who are as resilient as they are kind, a people who are as strong as they are compassionate."
The president is making a second stop at Just-In-Time Recreation, the bowling alley that was also a site of the mass shooting last week.
Along the route from the bar and grille a scattering of onlookers stood outside and took photos of the passing motorcade.
Set up across the street: a group of Trump supporters (there were several pro-Trump signs and one that said "buy a gun defend America.")
A podium with the presidential seal is set up. The president will be delivering remarks at the site, the White House says.
President Biden's blocks-long motorcade of black limousines and dark SUVs, accompanied by local and state police vehicles, snaked its way along Lewiston's deserted Main Street, past the industrial city's brick commercial and industrial buildings and retail businesses. Residents individually or in small groups stood and watched, some holding up their phones to get pictures of the brief, rare presidential visit.
The president's first stop was Schemengees Bar and Grille, one of two sites where the gunman opened fire.
Just feet from a large sign demanding, "Fix the mental health system," Biden and first lady Jill Biden hugged Schemengees' owner Kathy Lebel.
The Bidens brought a bouquet of flowers to a memorial site outside the bar and bowed their heads at the tribute of pumpkins and yellow chrysanthemums framed by other signs, such as "Lewiston Love Still Lives Here" and a red valentine-shaped heart.
They were accompanied by Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins, who crossed herself standing before the floral tribute.
Air Force One has landed at Brunswick Executive Airport. The president left the plane and greeted first lady Jill Biden with a hug and kiss. Mrs. Biden hugged Sen. Susan Collins and greeted Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree, who had followed the president off the plane. The president took his wife's hand and the two walked with the members of the Maine delegation to one of two green and white helicopters that is scheduled to transport them to the Lewiston area. The helicopters left the ground at 2:41 p.m, disappearing from sight moments later.
Holding her dog Maggie's leash in one hand and a bunch of white ribbons in the other, Donna Zahn walked along Lisbon Street tying bows around the utility poles on the block.
"These are in remembrance of those who were killed," said Zahn, 67.
A group of women Zahn is connected with gathered in Lewiston over the last few days to cut countless strands of ribbon to tie around the city.
"I wish I could do more," said Zahn as she undid a twist in the ribbon she just put up.
Zahn didn't personally know anyone who was a victim or survivor or the shooting, but said she feels awful that something so horrible happened in Lewiston, which she has called home for 35 years.
"It shouldn't happen anywhere," she said of mass shootings. "But this is just too close to home."
Zahn said she thinks the shooting is the fault of a failed mental health system.
"There's not enough help for people," she said.
Robert Card died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to a spokesperson for the Office of Chief Medical Examiner.
While the autopsy is complete, it remains unclear when exactly Card shot himself because the trauma from his fatal wound may make it difficult to determine when he died, according to the spokesperson. It may be several months before the office releases its final report.
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services said Friday that it is sending a team of 35 volunteer health care professionals to Central Maine Medical Center to "provide behavioral health support and staff respite support" to workers there.
The agency also launched a new website to provide support for health providers.
Health care workers at CMMC scrambled to action in response to the Oct. 25 shooting to care for the wounded. About 900 of the hospital's 3,000 staff members were involved with caring for the wounded, the state said.
CMMC workers are among those expected to meet with President Biden today in Lewiston.
The volunteer team is part of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Maine Responds program, which organizes health care, public health, spiritual support and emergency response volunteers to respond to emergency situations.
The team was also deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Maine DHHS also launched a dedicated webpage today with resources for health providers caring for victims, families, and others affected by the tragedy in Lewiston.
President Biden is en route to Maine with three members of the state's congressional delegation, according to pool reporters.
Wearing a black coat and aviator sunglasses, Biden landed at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland at a little after 1 p.m. to board Air Force One and depart for Maine, where he will meet with first responders, frontline workers and victims of last week's mass shooting that killed 18 people and wounded 13 more in Lewiston. It was the deadliest shooting in Maine history and worse mass shooting in this country this year.
U.S. Sens. Angus King, an independent, and Susan Collins, a Republican, are traveling with Biden, along with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District.
U.S. Rep. Jared Golden, a Lewiston Democrat, does not appear to be traveling with the president. Last week, Golden announced that he now supports a ban on assault-style rifles.
The Bureau of Motor Vehicles branch in Lewiston closed at 1:30 p.m. today, citing planned road closures for President Biden's visit.
The branch is located at 36 Mollison Way, near one of the shooting sites.
Robert Card began his Oct. 25 shooting spree nearby at Just-in-Time Bowling at 24 Mollison Way.
The Secretary of State's Office says that all 12 other BMV branches remain open for the remainder of the afternoon. Additionally, Mainers can access many BMV services online.
Appearing on Maine Public's "Maine Calling" radio program this morning, Maine Public Safety Commissioner Michael Sauschuck and Col. Bill Ross of the Maine State Police defended the police response after the shootings occurred in Lewiston.
Responding directly to the Portland Press Herald's reporting that there was a delay of some 12 hours before tracking began from Robert Card's abandoned vehicle at a Lisbon boat launch, Sauschuck stood by the decision to wait until daylight the next morning because of the "risk-reward calculation" commanders made with a potentially armed and dangerous suspect on the loose.
Referring to a 48-hour timeline released Thursday, Sauschuck said: "I see action; I don't see delay."
Ross pointed out that no one was killed or injured during the manhunt for Card, and he stood by the risk assessment police commanders made.
Both Sauschuck and Ross said they support the independent commission announced this week by Gov. Janet Mills that would investigate the response before and after the shootings.
Even so, "those decisions were the right decisions made in probably the most dangerous manhunt Maine has ever faced," Ross said.
Stefanie Feldman, director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, said before the president's visit Friday that the federal government will continue to provide support to Lewiston in the aftermath of last week's shootings.
"Recovering from this attack will be long and difficult, and President Biden is committed to marshaling resources from across the federal government to support Lewiston every step of the way," she wrote in a prepared statement. "He will also continue to be relentless in doing everything in his power to stop the epidemic of gun violence tearing our communities apart and urging Congress to act on commonsense gun safety legislation."
Since the shootings, members of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention have been on the ground in Maine helping to coordinate the response from several federal agencies, including FBI Victim Services, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services.
For the second time in about three months, President Biden is visiting Maine. When he arrives today, though, it will be under very different circumstances.
In late July, Biden visited a textile manufacturer in Auburn to tout his administration's economic plans and sign an executive order aimed at boosting incentives for domestic manufacturing.
This afternoon, President Biden and first lady Jill Biden are arriving just over a week after Maine's deadliest mass shooting in state history. The Oct. 25 shootings in Lewiston left 18 people dead and many wounded. You can read our complete coverage of the shootings here.
Here's what to expect from today's presidential visit:
— Flight restrictions are in effect in the area between late morning and early evening Friday, an indication of the planned timetable for Biden's trip. Air Force One will arrive in Brunswick and the president will travel from there to Lewiston.
— Gov. Janet Mills is scheduled to greet the Bidens in Lewiston shortly before 3 p.m.
— Between 3:45 p.m. and 5 p.m., the president and his wife are scheduled to meet with first responders, nurses and others who responded to the shootings and families and victims. He's also expected to deliver remarks paying respects to the victims.
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