President Barack Obama's campaign tour turned somber as he was set to speak Friday at the Harborside Event Center as part of a two-day tour across Florida that began Thursday. He was to cover his vision for economic growth, job creation and the national debt.
But, due to a mass shooting early Friday morning in a theater premier showing in Aurora, Colo., the day's events changed.
Obama cut short his campaign stop in Fort Myers and canceled the following stop in Orlando. Before the local crowd, he spoke for roughly seven minutes and shared his thoughts before leaving for Washington.
President Barack Obama waves to supporters during a campaign stop at the Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers last Friday.
"I was looking forward to having a fun conversation with you," Obama said at the start, acknowledging that his supporters came for a campaign event.
"But this morning, we woke up to news of a tragedy that reminds us of all the ways that we are united as one American family," he said about a 24-year-old doctoral student from the University of Colorado-Denver that opened fire inside one of the theaters. Twelve were killed and dozens were injured.
Obama outlined the basics of what occurred in Colorado and assured the crowd that local and national authorities are doing everything they can.
"We will take every step possible to ensure the safety of all our people," he said, adding that he had spoken to Aurora's mayor and the governor.
"Now, even as we learn how this happened and who's responsible, we may never understand what leads anybody to terrorize their fellow human beings like this ... But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living," Obama said.
He called those who were killed parents, spouses, siblings, children and friends.
"If there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile," Obama said. "Our time here is limited and it is precious."
He spoke of his reaction to first hearing the news of the shooting.
"My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day?" Obama asked, adding that he and his wife, Michelle, would be fortunate enough to hug their girls tonight.
"But for those parents who may not be so lucky, we have to embrace them and let them know we will be there for them as a nation," he said.
Obama thanked the crowd for coming out to the event.
"I am so moved by your support, but there are going to be other days for politics," he continued, "This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection."
His speech wrapped up with a moment of silence for Aurora.
Beach resident John Heim attended the event with his daughter, Willow. Since he was in line at 7 a.m. waiting to get inside the center, he did not know about the Colorado tragedy. He said Willow videotaped the entire speech on her cell phone.
"She has a piece of American history there. It helped her understand it more coming from President Obama and the way he laid it all down," said John. "It was one of the most heartfelt speeches I've ever witnessed. Let alone Willow. We both came away with a different love for each other as he said to love your family just a bit more today on. And we did."
Heim said he took his daughter to the tour stop with compassion in mind. Her intention was to give the president a 'One Human Family" sticker.
"His speech about the movie massacre instead turned us into our message of One Human Family and life being so precious," said Heim. "Afterwards, we sat on Harborside's steps and let it all sink in. We both walked away stronger and more compassionate for people as a result of the massacre. It proved to ourselves that community and unity overcome disaster every time."
Outside of Harborside, supporters and critics of the president lined the streets of downtown Fort Myers holding signs and coming up with chants. "Four more years" was one regular chant heard from Obama's backers.
Among those gathered was Fort Myers resident Robert Stachler, who was present with his wife with a sign in hand. The couple would have tried to get tickets to the event, but they were not in town when they were given out.
"If we could've got inside, we would have got inside," he said.
Stachler said he is in support of Obama because of the ending to the "debacle in Iraq" and because the president is trying to get out of Afghanistan. He supports better health care and welcomes Obama's general attitude.
A registered Republican, Stachler is disappointed in some areas.
He had hoped Obama would have shut down Guantanamo as promised and figured out how to bring an end to the "chronic opposition" in Congress.
"I would have liked to see a little miracle there," Stachler said.
"I'm sorry that everything's so divisive," he added.
A second term in office would give Obama time to do more.
"I still believe he's much better than any alternatives we've seen so far," Stachler said.
Alfredo Gude, of Cape Coral, holds a different opinion. A Romney supporter, he was brandishing a sign touting the negatives of Obama's administration.
"I saw what happened in Cuba," the former immigrant said. "I'm seeing it beginning to happen in the United States."
He explained that the federal government is taking up more control over issues like health care, the environment and business regulations.
"We're creating an environment where people don't have to work," Gude said, adding that nearly half of Americans are "on the take" through welfare, food stamps and programs. "The only way you come out of poverty is working."
Asked about his support for Romney, he explained that the Republican could help create job growth because of his background and experience.
"I think that Romney has been raised in a private environment and he knows how business works," Gude said.
He cited Obama's rejection of the proposed Keystone Pipeline as one example of the current administration doing the opposite of turning the economy.
"This election will have a significant impact on the future of the country," Gude said. "I hope it's not too late."