POMPANO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump came face-to-face Friday with hospitalized victims of the horrific school shooting in Florida and offered thanks to the doctors and nurses who helped the wounded, declaring "the job they've done is incredible."
Asked if he'd talked with victims, Trump added: "I did indeed, and it's very sad something like that could happen."
After paying their respects to medical professionals at Broward Health North Hospital, Trump and his wife, Melania, visited with law enforcement officials in Fort Lauderdale, where he told officers that he hoped they were "getting the credit" they deserved for their response to the shooting that left 17 dead and 14 injured.
"I was at the hospital with a lot of parents and they are really thankful for the job you've done," Trump said at the Broward County Sheriff's Office, where he was joined by Gov. Rick Scott, Sen. Marco Rubio and other Florida officials. He added that the young victims were in "really great shape" considering what they have been through.
Trump relished bantering and praising the law enforcement officials, he marveled at the speed with which first responders rushed the wounded to the hospital and he extended hearty thanks to first responders. But the president who has never been a natural at consolation didn't publicly address the grief and sorrow gripping a shocked community and nation, beyond his mention of how sad it was to meet with victims.
Late Friday, he tweeted about the school shooting: "Our entire Nation, w/one heavy heart, continues to pray for the victims & their families in Parkland, FL. To teachers, law enforcement, first responders & medical professionals who responded so bravely in the face of danger: We THANK YOU for your courage!" He included pictures of an injured young girl and her family that he and the first lady visited.
During his visit, there was not any mention of the debate over gun regulation set off by the shooting. The president ignored a shouted question about whether guns should be more tightly regulated.
Trump said he originally planned to visit the Parkland area on Sunday or Monday, but decided he didn't want to wait.
But as Trump arrived in Florida, some of the parents, survivors and others affected by the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School said they were more interested in firm action to prevent future assaults than a presidential visit.
"I don't want Trump to come but we want more gun safety," said 18-year-old Kevin Trejos, a senior at the school. "It's a dream. It hasn't hit me yet. When I see empty desks, I'll feel it. I'm numb now."
Trump's approach stood in sharp contrast to his predecessor's reaction to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, five years ago. After the Sandy Hook slayings, President Barack Obama quickly attended an emotional evening vigil in Newtown, where he read aloud the names of each victim and promised to use "whatever power" he had to prevent future shootings. In the wake of a mass shooting at a South Carolina church, Obama led thousands in singing "Amazing Grace."
Trump's visit followed a similar script to his trip to Las Vegas in the fall after the worst mass slaying in modern history. On that trip, he also made a visit to a hospital, meeting with victims behind closed doors and then more publicly celebrated first responders.
In this case, it was Rubio who spoke directly to the raw emotions of the moment, telling Trump, "This is a community and a state that's in deep pain and they want action to make sure this never happens again."
Mrs. Trump, for her part, thanked law enforcement officials "for taking care of our children" and added: "They were put through a lot in what they were experiencing two days ago and we need to take care of them."
More than 1,000 people had attended a candlelight vigil Thursday night near the school, and at one point some began chanting, "No more guns! No more guns!"
Lori Alhadeff's 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed during the shooting. She invoked the president's 11-year-old son, Barron, as she angrily called for help.
"President Trump, Barron goes to school. Let's protect Barron. And let's also protect all these other kids," she said Friday on CNN, her voice raising to a shout. "You need to help us, now. We need security now for all these children. We need action, action, action!"
Trump, who frequently boasts about his support for the National Rifle Association, made no mention of gun violence or any new measure to restrict access to firearms during his remarks Friday or a day earlier. He did promise to tackle school safety and "the difficult issue of mental health."
He also tweeted Friday that he was "working with Congress on many fronts," though he offered no details.
Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the NRA spent $30 million in support of his campaign.
The president made the trip to meet with first responders soon after Air Force One arrived in West Palm Beach for the president to spend the weekend at his Palm Beach estate, which is about 40 miles from Parkland.
In a departure from the Trumps' original schedule, Mrs. Trump arrived at Air Force One separately from her husband for the flight to Florida and boarded the plane while reporters were kept away. A spokeswoman said the change was due to scheduling.
As he departed, Trump ignored shouted questions from journalists about a report in The New Yorker magazine that he had an affair in 2006 with a Playboy model.
Thomas reported from Washington. AP writers Jon Lemire in New York, Zeke Miller, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Maria Danilova in Washington and Josh Replogle in Parkland, Fla., contributed to this report.
Follow Lucey on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@catherine_lucey and Thomas at http://twitter.com/@KThomasDC
Link to Trump tweet on hospital visit: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/964724390637244417