Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Joshua Dubois: What the President secretly did at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Below is an excerpt from The President’s Devotional by Joshua Dubois, the former head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He’s recounting events that occurred Sunday, December 16, 2012 — two days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and 6 adult staff members. Dubois had gotten word the day before that the President wanted to meet with the families of the victims:

I left early to help the advance team—the hardworking folks who handle logistics for every event—set things up, and I arrived at the local high school where the meetings and memorial service would take place. We prepared seven or eight classrooms for the families of the slain children and teachers, two or three families to a classroom, placing water and tissues and snacks in each one. Honestly, we didn’t know how to prepare; it was the best we could think of.

The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry—so understandable that it barely needs to be said—and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence.

I went downstairs to greet President Obama when he arrived, and I provided an overview of the situation. “Two families per classroom . . . The first is . . . and their child was . . . The second is . . . and their child was . . . We’ll tell you the rest as you go.”

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

From The President’s Devotional. Copyright 2013 Joshua Dubois.

school-shooting-5-600

Children waiting outside the school after the shooting. [photo: Michelle McLoughlin]

1,519 comments on “Joshua Dubois: What the President secretly did at Sandy Hook Elementary School

  1. Penny
    September 17, 2019

    I miss you, Mr. President.

    Like

  2. Lindsey Garrison
    September 13, 2019

    Obama has a great heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Leigh Blake
    September 13, 2019

    Heart warming and so typical of the best president we have had the honor of having. Thank you President Obama…all our love to you and your family.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Jose A Munoz
    September 11, 2019

    Thank you for posting about this heart felt moment, because years from now people will get to know the real character of our great president Barack Obama.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mabel Graham
    September 3, 2019

    A real President! So loved and loving ! Unlike the thing in our White House today!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Darlene Turner
    September 3, 2019

    I cried all day when the first shots were reported at Sandy Hook. I am 70 and have 5 children and 11 grandchildren. My heart broke for those parents. I am glad a great man President Obama was there for them! He is my example of what a father should be. His own daughters are so lucky. Our country was so lucky to have him. Thank you President Obama for your Service. I know it wasn’t easy and I apologize for how some treated you unfairly just because of the color of your skin. I want you to know that I voted for you and I am proud that I did. You did a great job. I just wish you could come back but enjoy your future.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Antonio Benjamin
    September 2, 2019

    I personally met Senator Obama on the Campaign trail at Hanscom AFB. He was so warm even after I interrupted his cigarette break. Shuke his hand. Trump went to Texas to have his photo taken while standing over the Hospital beds of Shooting victims then he backpedal off Gun background checks after a phone call from NRA President Wayne LaPierre. A few days later.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Karl Godsey
    September 2, 2019

    A gentleman with a heart who challenged all of us to put ‘we’ before me. I had the opportunity and honor to meet him as I retired and as I shook his hand and began to thank him for his leadership he said, “ Sir, thank you for your service.” That left me speechless and proud. His compassion and intelligence are sorely missed.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Rosemary
    September 2, 2019

    Thank you President Obama, for being the kind, gentle man that those parents needed at the most difficult time of their lives. May God Bless you for all your compassion and caring during your time as Oresident if the United States Of America. If only we had you in office now.😪

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Carol Paolucci
    August 20, 2019

    Dear Lord, when one compares the responses 0f the two men, it’s difficult to fathom the truth of what presently passes for presidential decorum. It’s a nightmare for anyone who has suffered loss from gun violence. This clown has sold out to anyone or any group that supports his re-election. God help us should it become a reality.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Jacklyn Krampitz
    August 20, 2019

    This story filled my heart that humanity still exists and how wonderful President Obama was in any of our situations or crisis, he was there for the people.
    And least not, remember the terrible day of the Sandy Hook Shooting and the loss of these innocent children, and ask why?
    Let us never forget
    Jacklyn, Wallingford, Ct. 😢😢😢

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Nancy Corcoran
    August 20, 2019

    President Obama was the most compassionate man. Those poor families were suffering and you could tell by the look on his face back then the toll this took on him as well. How we went from him and his family to the new White House family I will never understand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Corby
      September 1, 2019

      Racism. Yes, conservatives, playin’ the Race Card, and it’s the correct play.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Tien
    August 13, 2019

    I needed this just to remember a time when there was such caring and humanity and compassion in the face of evil. President Obama, I am reminded everyday how much I miss you.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Nicholas Noël III
    August 12, 2019

    Nice to remember what leadership is all about. We certainly haven’t seen that the past week, nor the past two and a half years.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Keith Rodgers
    August 12, 2019

    I know this is off-topic but I think it’ll make you smile:
    A couple of years ago I had a small stroke, but that’s not the funny part.
    Anyway, a cardiologist I’ve never seen before came into the hospital room and looked at my chart. “oh, August fourth birthday, huh?” he said. I said, “yeah- yours too?”. “Yep”, he replied. “Same as President Obama’s”, I cheerfully said.
    “Oh”, he muttered as his face dropped. I giggled and said, “It’s true”!
    Hah! I ruined his birthday forever!!!!

    Like

  16. Pamela P Fortier
    August 12, 2019

    We love and miss this great good decent man.
    We were so fortunate to have President Obama
    as our leader.
    President Obama made us each a better person.
    President Obama made our country a great nation.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Carol Carlson
    August 11, 2019

    The Compassion of President Obama is undeniable and continues to help many of us who are in despair and fear because of his successor and the evil that is spreading throughout America.
    I pray that Obama continues to bring us all some ray of hope for the future of our nation. May God bless him and his family.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Rose McElreath
    August 11, 2019

    President Obama in my opinion is the most Intelligent and best Human been ever occupied the White House.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jacqueline Anderson
    August 11, 2019

    Contrast this with a man giving a big grin and thumbs up while his smiling wife held an orphaned baby. Contrast this with a man bragging about his YUGE crowd size at his El Paso rally, completely ignoring the real possibility that his words at that very rally may have spurred thus killer. Contrast this with a man who needed cheat sheets with “feel your pain” because he didn’t know what to say to grieving Parkland parents. I truly believe that ANY OTHER Republican 2016 hopeful
    would have been better than this sad excuse for a human being.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Jon Field
    August 11, 2019

    No matter what side of the political fence you’re on, you have to respect Obama for his Class. Sad to think, that the same scenario with our current president, and he would have made it all about him. Class and Character are things money cannot buy…

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Barrett
    August 11, 2019

    “Amazing Grace” sung by the President in Charleston. .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Hugensmith
      August 11, 2019

      Joan Baez later wrote and recorded a song about that moment in Charleston called “The President Sang Amazing Grace.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Stan Takis
        September 2, 2019

        Actually, Zoe Mulford wrote the song, but Joan Baez did bring it to the public’s attention more widely.

        Liked by 1 person

  22. Inga Weldy Holmquist
    August 11, 2019

    I am moved to tears, but not surprised. A man of great character, dignity and grace. Mr. President, I miss you so much!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Janice Ruzichka
    August 11, 2019

    No cameras … No photo ops smiling … No thumbs up … Only true compassion & civility for parents & families who where experiencing a terror no parent or family should ever go through !!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cynthia Beauchamp
      August 21, 2019

      I shudder to imagine how the current president would have used this circumstance to make it about him. Thank you President Obama for your class, sincerity and gentle humanity in comforting these families on the darkest day of their lives.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Patsy Nelson
    August 11, 2019

    This has me in tears. President Obama is truly a great man and leader. A man with such a gentle spirit and great love. This country needs another leader like him.

    Liked by 2 people

  25. Jennifer
    August 11, 2019

    I so miss that kind, caring and brilliant leader. He was a balm to the people who lost loved ones and to all the people of our nation.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Midge Whalen
    August 11, 2019

    Where IS the tissue?

    Liked by 2 people

  27. Sherrie House
    August 11, 2019

    A true human being – a man with a soul and a beautiful spirit. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Rosario M Garcia
    August 11, 2019

    Thank YOU PRESIDENT OBAMA. MY PRESIDENT ALWAYS. DEFEAT the ( ( ( (NRA ) PLEASE.

    Liked by 2 people

  29. G.Cummings
    August 11, 2019

    It never ceases to amaze me, how much love, integrity, and compassion this REAL president showered upon these suffering families, after such horrible murders were inflicted upon their children, and staff. Hasten to say, you will never see Don Trump show ANY emotional connection with people like this. His only concern is how he benefits, his photo-ops look.

    Liked by 3 people

  30. Penny villa
    August 11, 2019

    Humanity at it’s finest

    Liked by 2 people

  31. Stephanie Tucker
    August 10, 2019

    Thank you for sharing this story. I am always in awe of President Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama with their eloquence, grace, and humility even during the worst of circumstances. We need a leader again that we can look up to that sets the example and bar high for all of us. God I miss them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Vox Populi
      August 11, 2019

      Many of us miss the Obamas. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • dodadagohuhsgi
      August 11, 2019

      I miss them too. The military has a standing principle–“set the example.” BE the soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guard ambassador that you would like to see every member of the armed forces be. Let your example spread, from life to life then down the ages. There is no life worth living without service to ALL life. We find ourselves in our service to ourselves, to God, and to each other.–Tom Reilly

      Like

  32. Thigpen, Ada
    February 25, 2019

    Lovely story. Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

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  34. Marie Sundet
    December 31, 2018

    Hi, Liz, I was of course deeply touched reading the article about Obama’s visit to Sandy Hook Elementary School after the horrible shootings and killings there. Obama is an example to all of us in almost every circumstance, it seems. Thanks for sending it. So sorry it took me sooooo long to read and respond! Love you, Liz, Marie

    Liked by 1 person

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