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Obama in Orlando to Comfort Nightclub Massacre Victims


President Barack Obama, with Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., left, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, get off Air Force One upon their arrival at Orlando International Airport, in Florida, June 16, 2016.

President Barack Obama, with Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., left, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., center, get off Air Force One upon their arrival at Orlando International Airport, in Florida, June 16, 2016.

U.S. President Barack Obama is in Orlando, Florida, Thursday to comfort a city reeling from the country's biggest mass shooting ever and meet privately with the families of the people killed and wounded at a gay nightclub last Sunday.

Airborne on the flight from Washington to the southeastern U.S. city, a White House spokesman said that Obama "feels there is no more tangible way to show support for Orlando than to go there."

The spokesman said the president "wants to show Americans stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Orlando."

Obama is meeting with relatives of the 49 people killed and the 53 wounded at the club in the early hours of Sunday when an American-born Muslim sprayed round after round of bullets at revelers who were dancing to Latin music and partying with friends.

The three-hour siege ended when police knocked holes into the Pulse nightclub and killed the gunman, Omar Saddiqui Mateen, in a shootout.

President Barack Obama, right, receives a T-shirt from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, center, as he arrives in Orlando to meet with families of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, in Florida, June 16, 2016.

President Barack Obama, right, receives a T-shirt from Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, center, as he arrives in Orlando to meet with families of victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, in Florida, June 16, 2016.

Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, is also talking with those who survived the mayhem, as well as police, ambulance crews, nurses, doctors and surgeons who helped treat those who were shot.

"The president understands that he is a symbol of the country," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said before leaving Washington. "And when he travels to a community and meets with a family that has endured a terrible tragedy, he's offering a message of condolence and comfort on behalf of the American people.

"And the president takes that responsibility quite seriously," Earnest said.

He added that Obama's support will be a "powerful affirmation" for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community that was attacked.

WATCH: Orlando residents react to Obama visit

“I can’t speak for (the president) or what he is going to do – but I hope it does bring some comfort to the victims that he is coming and to show that he does care," said Al New, standing in the front of the makeshift memorial that has become a gathering point for Orlando residents in the wake of the shooting attack.

The plaza in front of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts is full of flowers and other memorabilia for the victims of the attack on Pulse nightclub.

Several vigils have been held here since the attack and a steady stream of people pass through to pay their respects.

Josh Korshak stopped by Thursday morning in advance of Obama's visit.

"I mean a lot of people say Obama isn’t – you know – he hasn't gone through it just as much as we have, and he’s been acting almost indifferent to it as well," he said. "But, I think he’s definitely going to try and talk to these people and tell them, 'Hey I’m here for you.' What can you do, you know?"

A member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association leads an impromptu prayer with two locals at Orlando's victim memorial, June 16, 2016. (Photo: A. Arabasadi/VOA)

A member of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association leads an impromptu prayer with two locals at Orlando's victim memorial, June 16, 2016. (Photo: A. Arabasadi/VOA)

Candice King-Palgut described herself as not a fan of Obama's politics, but had great respect for his humanity.

"He feels deeply, and I appreciate that," she said.

She summed up with her own post-shooting presecription.

"No amount of trying to keep people out, that’s not going to fix anything. We just have to love each other and be more mindful of each other. Be kinder, be gentler, be truer," she said.

Meanwhile, the Senate Homeland Security committee is asking Facebook to provide whatever data it has on any account linked to the 29-year-old Mateen.

WATCH: Related video on gunmen who target groups of civilians

In a letter Wednesday, committee chairman Ron Johnson said his staff obtained information that Mateen made several Facebook posts Sunday, including pledging allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and telling the U.S. and Russia to stop bombing the militants.

Mateen also said there would be more attacks in the U.S. in the coming days.

FBI probe

Other lawmakers want to know more about the FBI's earlier contacts with Mateen, whom investigators interviewed in 2013 and 2014 after he bragged to coworkers about ties to al-Qaida.

Agents could not verify the allegations and closed their probe.

"We know that the FBI had looked closely at him because of concerns from coworkers and others," Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow told VOA. "I’d like to know more about their decisions. He was on a terror watch list and removed."

Illinois Senator Richard Durbin said, “Not once but twice (the FBI was) warned that (Mateen) was a dangerous man. Their investigation concluded there was nothing more they could do. We wish there had been a different outcome – many people would be alive today."

White House correspondent Cindy Saine contributed to this report

WATCH: Outpouring of support for Orlando nightclub shooting survivors

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    Arash Arabasadi

    Arash Arabasadi is an award-winning multimedia journalist with a decade of experience shooting, producing, writing and editing. He has reported from conflicts in Iraq, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and Ukraine, as well as domestically in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Arash has also been a guest lecturer at Howard University, Hampton University, Georgetown University, and his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife Ashley and their two dogs.

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