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]

1,541 comments on “Joshua Dubois: What the President secretly did at Sandy Hook Elementary School

  1. Perry Welsh
    October 5, 2019

    President Obama was and continues to be what is good about this country. To me Bernie Sanders was cut from the same idealist, compassionate mold. Continue on Bernie, make us great !!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Susan Orlandi
    October 4, 2019

    President Obama was and always will be the best President we have ever had, his compassion, kindness, honesty and morals showed us all what we had, why we got that creep who is in the WH now absolutely astounds me! I’m sick of the way Our President Obama and his family were treated for 8 YEARS, a family who, it was obvious, WE THE PEOPLE came first as did this great country! We had and were very blessed to have President Obama as our leader for 8 wonderful.years! This story is beautiful and warms my heart even more with love for My President Barock Obama and his amazing , beautiful family! Thank you President Obama and Michelle for taking such great care of us for 8 years and for continuing to fight for us everyday! We mis you more then you know!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jan Lawrence
      October 6, 2019

      I agree 100% I love President Obama and his family, always will! He has shown the people of America what a Great man looks and acts like. May his life be long and his love be never ending.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dennis Thompson
    September 29, 2019

    The greatest President of my lifetime( I am 66 years old). I will always refer to him as MR PRESIDENT. His compassion is unmatched.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Brock Putnam
      October 3, 2019

      Not to “one-up” you Dennis, he’s the greatest of my lifetime as well, and I’m going to be 74 next month! (Just another way of saying I agree with you whole-heartedly!) Dubois’ account reaches right down to the depths of my heart – I found myself swallowing frequently and wiping my eyes. What an amazing man! We were so lucky to have him.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Chuck
    September 25, 2019

    Little spoken fact of this Sandy Hook shooting is that the shooters uncle (his moms brother) was a local police Capt. The guns were registered by the mom.

    Like

    • Don Kirlis
      October 1, 2019

      No exactly Chuck, Jimmy Champion is a retired Captain in New Hampshire, Kingston to be exact. I have known Jimmy since about 1985. Yeah they were his sisters gun.

      Like

  5. Carolyn
    September 25, 2019

    I miss him so much. We see now what kind of strength it takes to make our country truly American. It was so precious, will we ever truly appreciate the man who lived up to the title.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Elayne Ihnchak
    September 22, 2019

    President Obama is a beacon of hope
    for all of us. I am sad to say, I took his
    Intelligence, honor and kindness for granted. He is my very favorite President. We have had a very rude
    awakening with the person who tried to
    take his place. That guy isn’t fit to shine your shoes or clean the yard after you dog. Your family is amazing and you
    are lucky to have one another.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Joan M Barbour
    September 22, 2019

    President Obama knew what to do – to say little but to listen a lot. There were no words to truly say, but there was a lot to hear. These families deserved his time – to listen to their grief. He is a great person.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Dawn Pelton
    September 22, 2019

    This is what we used to have and we did not know how luckey we were u til now.
    We miss him so much.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Margaret Griffith
    September 21, 2019

    He was a wonderful President. I have no words. It just makes me so sad for our country today.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Louise Krippenstapel
    September 21, 2019

    This is what happens when a chief executive is a deeply caring and giving human being.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Don DeMaria
    September 20, 2019

    Trump is completely uncapable of any compassion.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Rae
      September 21, 2019

      How you get this opinion from this beautiful story about Obama is beyond me. Why trash |Trump at every opportunity? Why bring him in here? what does one have to do with the other?

      Like

      • Vox Populi
        September 21, 2019

        It is a beautiful story, Rae, but many of us can’t help but see the contrast between Obama’s behavior in office and Trump’s.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Sue
        September 22, 2019

        The comparison of Obama to trump is important to notice. Trump has lowered the standards for the entire nation by having no empathy, no understanding of human emotions, by caring about no one except himself. He has brought us all to a new low by encouraging white supemacy, weaker gun laws, and a lack of any kind of moral compass. We need to fight with every word we speak, to denounce this moron of a president and return to the example that President Obama set for all of us.
        THAT IS WHY WE SHOULD ALL BE TRASHING trump AT EVERY OPPORTUNITY!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Judy Lucas Hudson
        September 24, 2019

        Because Trump is trash. Trump is not even worth the dirt under President Obama’s feet walk on. That is why.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Donna nasoff
        September 25, 2019

        The fact that you don’t know what one has to do with another is the very heart of the disaster and dysfunction and abomination of the current administration.

        Liked by 4 people

      • Tom
        October 7, 2019

        It is completely relevant because the President of OUR country should be held to the highest bar of human decency. Obama was a prime example of that kind of person. Trump is a sad example of the complete opposite. WE deserve and should DEMAND so much more from our elected officials. True leaders, not self serving political hacks.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Lydia Clermont
    September 20, 2019

    Beautiful story – Mr. Obama is a wonderful person with a big, kind heart. We, in Canada, have always loved Mr. and Mrs. Obama. God Bless them and their family…

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Penny
    September 17, 2019

    I miss you, Mr. President.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Lindsey Garrison
    September 13, 2019

    Obama has a great heart.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. 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 2 people

  16. 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

  17. Mabel Graham
    September 3, 2019

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

    Liked by 1 person

  18. 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

    • Melvina R Brown
      September 24, 2019

      President Obama is solely missed he is such a wonderful, kind, loving and sympathetic person. He made America proud we were a better nation when he was President!! God Bless him and his beautiful Family.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. 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

  20. 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

  21. 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

  22. 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

  23. 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

  24. 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

  25. 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

  26. 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

  27. 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

  28. 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

  29. 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

  30. 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

  31. 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

  32. 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

  33. 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

  34. 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

  35. 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

  36. 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

  37. 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

  38. Midge Whalen
    August 11, 2019

    Where IS the tissue?

    Liked by 2 people

  39. 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

  40. Rosario M Garcia
    August 11, 2019

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

    Liked by 2 people

  41. 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

  42. Penny villa
    August 11, 2019

    Humanity at it’s finest

    Liked by 2 people

  43. 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

  44. Thigpen, Ada
    February 25, 2019

    Lovely story. Thank you

    Liked by 2 people

  45. Pingback: Presidents Day 2019: Second Bill of Rights | Ramblin' with Roger

  46. 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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