BOW, N.H. — The mass shooting in Colorado prompted a respite in what has become a bitter presidential campaign, with President Obama and Mitt Romney muting anticipated attacks on each other Friday to instead deliver somber tributes to the victims.
“We may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. Such violence, such evil is senseless. It’s beyond reason,” the president said during a truncated six-minute speech in Fort Myers, Fla.
“But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved,” he said.
At least 12 people were killed when a gunman began shooting at the crowd in a theater in Aurora, Colo., holding a midnight screening of the latest Batman movie.
Obama, the father of young daughters, said: “I’m sure many of you are parents who had the same reaction I did when we heard the news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater as so many kids do each day?”
Obama led a moment of silence near the end of his speech, his final public appearance during what been planned as the second half of a two-day visit to Florida.
Romney’s scheduled rally in New Hampshire took on the air of a church service, as the pre-program music was nixed and the crowd of about 200 sat in silence.
When it was time for Romney to appear, he was preceded on stage by an Anglican priest who led a prayer.
During his four-minute remarks, Romney quoted Scripture and joined the president in seeking to humanize the moment.
“I stand before you today not as a man running for office, but as a father and a grandfather, a husband, an American,” he said.
“Each one of us will hold our kids a little closer, linger a bit longer with a colleague or a neighbor, reach out to a family member or friend,” he added. “We’ll all spend a little less time thinking about the worries of our day, and more time wondering about how to help those who are in need of compassion most.”
Afterward, Romney exemplified his belief by forming an impromptu greeting line and shaking the hand of each audience member as they walked toward the parking lots.
“Nice to see you,” he told one. “What a pretty dress,” he said to a little girl.
As with Obama, Romney’s stage was devoid of the usual campaign signs and slogans. Aides removed an Obama “upside down” economy sign about 2½ hours before he spoke.
Obama, as the nation’s leader, had the presidential seal on his podium, rather than his usual campaign logo.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters flying with Obama that the president ordered his administration to do “everything it can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time.”
Upon his return to the White House, Obama called the Aurora police chief, and he and Vice President Joe Biden received a briefing in the Oval Office from FBI Director Robert Mueller. The flag atop the Executive Mansion also was lowered to half-staff, and the White House issued a proclamation honoring the shooting victims.
Biden and first lady Michelle Obama canceled their own campaign events.
An appearance by Ann Romney, the wife of the presumptive Republican nominee, also was canceled, and the campaign pulled all its advertising in Colorado, a swing state that has been the focal point of a heated battle between the candidates.
The Obama campaign also said it was pulling any negative ads it has been airing in the state.
In closing out a week of active campaigning, Romney had been expected to hit Obama for not holding a meeting of his business-advisory Jobs Council for six months, despite 40 consecutive months of unemployment over 8 percent.
And, as he had in recent days during stops in Pennsylvania and Ohio, as well as Boston on Thursday, he was expected to hammer Obama for saying last week that “if you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”
Instead, Romney switched the entire nature of his appearance at Coastal Forest Products, a specialty lumber supplier.
Dressed in a sport coat, tie, and slacks, he was joined by New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, a former state attorney general who has been considered among Romney’s potential running mates.
Ayotte delivered her own words of condolence while introducing Romney, and then joined him on the greeting line.
Romney’s weekend schedule was not immediately publicized, but he was expected to head to the West Coast after spending Saturdays and Sundays this month at his home in Wolfeboro, N.H., overlooking Lake Winnipesaukee.
He flies to London at midweek for the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, before continuing on with visits to Israel and Poland.