President Trump on Thursday called the suspect in the mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., “mentally disturbed” and vowed to help local jurisdictions tackle mental health issues, but he made no mention of stricter gun-control laws.
In a televised address at the White House, Trump focused his response on the need for the nation to offer more support for young people who feel isolated a day after Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, was accused of the rampage that killed 17 people at his former school.
“I want you to know you are never alone and never will be,” Trump said during his six-minute address in the Diplomatic Room. He urged young people to turn for help to “a teacher, a family member, a local police officer or a faith leader.”
“Answer hate with love,” he said. “Answer cruelty with kindness.”
Trump pledged his administration would help “tackle the difficult issue of mental health” and said the issue of improving safety in schools would be the top priority during a meeting later this month with governors and state attorneys general. Yet Trump made no mention of gun-control laws in the aftermath of the third-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
In a tweet earlier Thursday, Trump implored the public to report erratic behavior to authorities as a way to head off such rampages. The president said there were “so many signs” about Cruz, and he declared, “Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem.”
The president attached — or “threaded” — his tweet to an unrelated one from two days earlier that dealt with the congressional negotiations on immigration. It was not clear why.
On Wednesday, he offered his “prayers and condolences” to the families of the victims. Seventeen people were reported killed in the massacre.
The White House canceled its daily news briefing Wednesday in the wake of the shooting, and none is listed on Thursday's public schedule.
Trump said during his remarks that he intends to visit South Florida to offer consolation to family members and help coordinate the federal and local response. The White House announced that the president's previously scheduled trip to Orlando on Friday to pitch his infrastructure plan has been canceled.
Trump's suggestion that Cruz, who authorities said used an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, was mentally ill comes amid continued public debate over gun-control laws and the mental health-care system. Congress has not passed major new laws on guns despite an increase in the numbers of people killed in some of the biggest mass shootings.
The Trump White House has not pushed for any new gun laws. A year ago, Trump signed legislation that revoked an Obama-era regulation that aimed to make it more difficult for some people with mental illness to buy guns.
In his own tweet, Obama reiterated the call he made as president for Congress to pursue "long overdue, common-sense gun safety laws."
It's not clear what recourse, if any, authorities would have had to stop Cruz even if they had been made aware of his erratic behavior before the shooting. Authorities said his social media postings included pictures of firearms, but Cruz purportedly purchased his rifle legally.
In a presidential proclamation, Trump ordered all American flags at the White House, federal buildings and U.S. embassies flown at half-staff to honor the shooting victims.