Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Nature, and Politics

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]

1,305 comments on “Joshua Dubois: What the President secretly did at Sandy Hook Elementary School

  1. Norma
    October 30, 2017

    The former president had that gift of empathy, sympathy, and being the ‘Comforter-in-Chief.’

    Like

  2. fromsandyknob
    October 28, 2017

    Reblogged this on From Sandy Knob and commented:
    Touching.

    Like

  3. Tom reilly
    October 27, 2017

    I was there when twenty-one Vietnamese village children were mistakenly machine gunned by our own choppers. Thirty-five years passed before I could tell their story without choking off in mid sentence. Some things you have to experience first hand before you could hope to explain them to others. Choose among fight, flee, or flow when the unspeakable strikes. Working with children through the years has helped me to make a bad thing better–my hopes are that the parents of Sandy Hook will find the same salvation.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pat Yoxsll
    October 27, 2017

    It was and is the darkest of days. I did not know any of those kids but I pray for them and their families. I don’t know how or where they got this inner strength. God keep them close.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Ruth Wesbrook
    October 27, 2017

    That’s right these people think 45 can do no wrong but we know President obama will do his best to make things as right as it is possible. He is not perfect but I’ll bet you’ll not find any better on earth

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Linda Green-Jenkins
    October 27, 2017

    In tears as I read this. I wept for the memory of what happened to those Precious babies. I wept for the parents and family members who had to see the children for the last time. Remembering how Parents are tirelessly keeping up the fight against the gun manufacturers & lobbyists. Maybe soon we can have some compassion and be moved to common sense gun laws. For the sake of all children. Thank you to President Obama also.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. janicedavinci
    October 26, 2017

    to Brenda corona. why would you try to spoil something so respectful and kind as the former president did. I was never an Obama fan and I am not a trump fan either. but if trump or his wife made such a gesture, I would never try to denigrate it by inserting such insulting comments and negativity. I can not call you a moron because that would be giving you a compliment you do not deserve.

    Like

  8. Barb
    October 25, 2017

    Joanna was the best President ever. .his wife was just as awsome. I’d give anything to have them return. May God Bless him and his family on there jouney. They shall be forever missed.

    Like

  9. Brenda Caronna
    October 24, 2017

    Obummer is not who you think he is!!! He’s still trying to tear this country apart !!! He needs to just go away!!!

    Like

    • MaryCsU
      October 25, 2017

      Your comment is so useless without detail; it comes across as ignorant or uninformed. Please respond with why you feel this way; it would be helpful in understanding your point!

      Like

    • Suzanne Roy
      October 25, 2017

      Forget you
      Useless is what we have now
      Trymo cannot hold a candlecto President Obama
      Esp for empathy and cimpassion

      Like

    • Laura Porter
      October 26, 2017

      Unbelievable. Can’t stand the idea that a very good, decent man is being honored for his decency? Perhaps you cannot recognize honor or decency. Look inward for where the tearing apart is being created.

      Like

    • leejcaroll
      October 27, 2017

      Forget the decency that he showed with each tragedy vs Trump using them to promote himself.
      President Obama was a successful poresident who brought this country back from the worst recession in UIS history among other things:
      Brought country back off the precipice of a depression and from the worst recession in US history handed to him by Bush. he formed a 65 country coalition against ISIS getting many top ppl and pushing them back Paris climate accord Iran deal (which is successful if you look at legit sources and not lies of GOP who would prefer we stay in more danger if the benefit has Obamas name on it. Much more. You follow Trumps Hitler mantra make the lie big make it simple s=keep repeating and they will believe and you and your cohorts have fallen for it hook line and sinker why trump says loves the poorly educated https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=mcafee&p=trump+i+loved+the+uneducated#id=2&vid=a8125a7c06b642e55700c56681ddfa77&action=click

      This isnt the age for your trash talk but very Trumpian of you but even though its usually not worth the effort I thght I would supply you with some facts as opposed to the hitlertrumplies you have accepted wholeheartedly

      Like

    • Sandra
      October 27, 2017

      You’re a dick and cleaely a Trumpette! President Obama has never try to do anything but unite this country and he STILL IS! THE BIG ORANGE CLOWN has divided the USA lime it’s never been done before. His days are numberes and the US will be able to recover from this Presidency lie they recoveres from World Wars!!!

      Like

      • Tom Reilly
        October 27, 2017

        Tactical means are used to achieve strategic ends. Sun Tzu in “The Art of War” said “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Trump is all tactics and no strategy. And history always, eventually, repeats itself.

        Like

    • jane pfeiffer
      October 27, 2017

      Brenda caronna- we r not holding our breath waiting for u to respond with something. because we know u will not & we sadly know the reason.

      Like

    • sybil
      November 15, 2017

      I am sad for you and your hatred. May you never face the garbage you dish out with such disrespect and lack of empathy. You are woefully uninformed. The weasels in there now will rob you blind and your grandchildren will blame your ignorance.

      Like

  10. Charles Roehrl
    October 24, 2017

    Just thinking of that terrible time brings tears, May GOD bless them all. And thanks to GOD that we experienced such a decent, kind and caring man as President.

    Like

  11. Robyn Whiteman
    October 24, 2017

    Thank you for sharing the kindness, compassion, and honest side of our former President . May God continue to bless him.

    Like

  12. B.Morgan
    October 23, 2017

    Not only a great leader but a brave, caring, compassionate person.

    Like

  13. Gene
    October 22, 2017

    What more is there to say?

    Like

  14. Shirley
    October 22, 2017

    This was more,than a President ..this was a man…a father

    Like

  15. Victoria
    October 22, 2017

    Did not make it through first paragraph sans tears because I could feel the President’s empathy for the losses suffered. Don’t you know he had to steel
    himself, because he made himself try to walk in the parents’ and siblings’ shoes.
    That is what leaders do, they lead from your position, so they can feel what their decisions impact. Oh, but could we turn back the hands of time.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Lisa
    October 21, 2017

    As a commander in chief should do. These things are suppose to be taught to us in childhood, empathy, remorse, dignity and kindness. But some are not, they are taught ignorance, arrogance, apathy, condescending, and impudence. Which leads to atrociousness in behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laura Gerry
      October 22, 2017

      its for the parents to teach social behavior………not the school system…….

      Like

  17. Bonnie Pozarlik
    October 21, 2017

    There’s always one in the crowd. Obama served as President with dignity, respect, and love. Three qualities that are lost in that very same house today

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom Reilly
      October 21, 2017

      Agreed, Bonnie!!

      Like

    • Sheena Shepard
      October 24, 2017

      It’s impossible for a narcissist to feel this empathy for others; he’s thinking only of himself not others.
      Obama is a caring man and empathizes with others. There’s basically no comparison between the two. Trump isn’t on the same level as Obama emotionally, academically, or intellectually.and never will be.

      Like

    • Brad
      October 25, 2017

      Somebody had to trash Trump eh?

      Like

  18. Elizabeth Crompton
    October 20, 2017

    I am not surprised President Obama is a smart kind and caring man. I do miss him now more than ever . And for the families who lost their beloved I’m so very sorry for the loss I hope I will never feel. God bless

    Like

  19. Anna
    October 18, 2017

    So much style and class I respect the man he did handle our White Houss presidential

    Like

  20. Mae Breckenridge-Haywood
    August 26, 2017

    Mesmerizing. The Command in of compassion.
    The real.
    Thank you for this.

    Like

  21. anders trim-haukebo
    August 26, 2017

    I’d give ANYTHING to have Obama back in the W.H., Barack OR Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Brenda Caronna
      October 24, 2017

      You mean Michael Obummer? No way!

      Like

      • Roy
        October 26, 2017

        you’re a moron Brenda, go back to your Klan meeting.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Gene
        October 26, 2017

        You know what it says about a person’s intellect when they’re always doing the childish name calling thing? No… I doubt you’re smart enough to understand.

        Like

      • Rachel Poland
        October 27, 2017

        So negative; so angry…..where does that get you?

        Like

  22. anders trim-haukebo
    August 26, 2017

    I’d give ANYTHING to have Obama back, Barack OR Michele!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Peter Weston
    August 25, 2017

    What a pathetic response to an act of Love and Compassion.
    You will, one day, regret your words.
    Not now, not next year, but at that hour when you make your final confession. God have mercy on you.

    Like

    • nic
      August 26, 2017

      Yes, may God have mercy on you for your stupidity. Your blind devotion looks eery similar to those who worshipped some false idols in the past..

      Like

      • brian bloomer
        August 26, 2017

        Peter, don’t bother to respond. This sad excuse for a person will never, ever understand.

        Like

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