President Donald Trump made a surprise visit Friday night to a Broward hospital treating some victims of this week’s shooting massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland.
Trump said he had met with victims at the hospital: “It’s sad something like that could happen,” he said, according to a White House press pool report.
The visit had not been announced publicly. It comes after one of the worst school shootings in American history, and as some Parkland survivors and the parents of those killed are demanding Trump lead a reform of gun laws.
Standing in a hallway with first lady Melania Trump, he shook hands with an unnamed doctor and said he was impressed with the speed of first responders, calling it “record-setting.”
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He did not respond when asked if the nation’s gun laws need to be changed and then walked to another room. Photos released by the White House showed him meeting with shooting victim Maddy Wilford, a Stoneman Douglas High basketball player who shot several times, and her family. Wilford showed a broad smile from her hospital bed, with the first couple to her left and family and a doctor to her right.
In a later visit with police who responded to the shooting that left 17 dead, Trump praised law enforcement and did not engage in a discussion about possible next steps in Washington on gun violence.
“What a great job you’ve done, and we appreciate it very much,” Trump said from a fifth-floor conference room at the agency’s Fort Lauderdale headquarters, according to a media pool report. “Incredible job, and everybody is talking about it.”
A transcript released from the White House showed U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Miami, used his remarks at the event to strike a more somber tone and touched on the pressure for legislative action after the shooting.
“This is a community and a state that’s in great pain,” said Rubio, who has opposed laws to impose stricter restrictions on firearm purchases and the regulation of high-capacity magazines for assault-style rifles like the one used in Parkland. “And they want action to make sure this never happens again. It’s happened too often. And I know, and I hope, and I pray we’ll come together. And I know you want to solve this, and—”
“Well, you’re behind them,” Trump responded, flanked by police officers, Gov. Rick Scott and the state’s attorney general, Pam Bondi. “I can tell you that, Marco. I spent a lot of time with Marco. He’s behind you, 100 percent, as is the Governor, as is Pam, as we all are. Really, as as we all are.”
The transcript showed Rubio was the only participant to mention teachers, referring to heroism displayed by the Parkland school staff during the shootings, leading to the deaths of three members of the faculty and staff. They were the first to respond to the violence, implementing the school’s elaborate security patrols to implemented amid a wave of mass shootings in schools across the country.
A pool report said the Trumps made the 50-minute trip by motorcade to Broward. They had arrived earlier in the day to visit his company’s for-profit club in Palm Beach, Mar-a-Lago.
A report from a Washington Post reporter who accompanied the presidential motorcade to Broward said Trump spent about 35 minutes at the hospital in Pompano Beach and had a slightly longer visit at the sheriff’s office. The Post described the visit as typical for Trump after a natural disaster or massacre, noting he “spent much of his time congratulating the responders instead of memorializing the victims.”
In his meeting with Broward deputies and officers from other police agencies that evacuate the school and arrest shooter Nikolas Cruz, Trump asked each person to identify themselves. Michael Leonard, a Coconut Creek police officer who arrested the gunman after he had left the school grounds amid the chaos.
“With the assistance of my backup,” Cohen said of the arrest, saying it was him and another officer who actually handcuffed Cruz.
“That was so modest,” Trump said to laughter. “I would have told it much differently. I would have said: ‘Without me, they never would have found him.’”
The visit highlighted the priority Trump places on law enforcement in public appearances. Trump’s favorite form of communication, his Twitter page, now features a group photo from his visit to the sheriff’s office, with a beaming Trump giving a thumbs up with Scott on his left, his wife on his right and uniformed police on either side.
Sheriff Scott Israel said Trump spent about 30 minutes visiting a Parkland victim who was the son of one of his deputies.
“I’ll never forget that, and for you to do something like that is amazing” Israel said. “And it shows what you think of law enforcement, and we appreciate it.”