Joshua Dubois: What Obama ‘Did In Secret’ In Newtown

The White House is not supposed to be a place for brokenness. Sheer, shattered, brokenness. But that’s what we experienced on the weekend of December 14, 2012. I was sitting at my desk around midday on Friday the 14th when I saw the images flash on CNN: A school. A gunman. Children fleeing, crying. But the private facts we received in the White House from the FBI were even worse. How the gunman treated the children like criminals, lining them up to shoot them down. How so many bullets penetrated them that many were left unrecognizable. How the killer went from one classroom to another and would have gone farther if his rifle would’ve let him.


“The President reacts as John Brennan briefs him on the details of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The President later said during a TV interview that this was the worst day of his Presidency.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


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.


“The President works on his Newtown speech at an auditorium in suburban Washington. Two days earlier, I had photographed him when John Brennan first briefed him on the shootings. Throughout that day, he reacted as we all did, which people witnessed when he delivered his statement a few hours later. Before we headed to Newtown for the Sunday night vigil, he went to watch his daughter Sasha, 11, at her rehearsal for the Nutcracker; he would be unable to attend her performance because of the trip to Newtown. During breaks in the rehearsal, he worked on his speech. His expression in this photograph may be subtle to the viewer, but not to me. There is emotion and resolve etched on his face, and he knew the importance of this speech for the nation.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


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.

More here



“Two days after the shootings at Newtown, the President traveled to Connecticut to meet with the victims’ families and give remarks at a prayer vigil. The President spent hours greeting family members. Difficult as that was for everyone, the one moment that helped sooth the pain was when he posed for a photo with the siblings and cousins of Emilie Parker, one of the 20 children who died that day in Newtown. I see both sadness and hope in this photograph, and I know after a lot of tears that day, it meant so much to the President that everyone was able to smile for a moment in this family photo. Thanks to the Parker family for allowing us to show this photograph publicly.” (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)


128 Responses to “Comforter-In-Chief”

  1. 1 Roberta in MN
    October 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    Just read some of that on Smartypants. Thanks UTA. I will go back and look at the the post. Just coming back.

  2. 2 africa
    October 26, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    He is one of a kind.

  3. October 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    Really beautiful post, thank you UT.

    • 5 utaustinliberal
      October 26, 2013 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks for the space to share it Chiparoo. You’re the BEST!

    • 7 99ts
      October 26, 2013 at 10:39 pm

      Amazing post and a man unequalled – that anyone tries to deny him his elected position is smiting the face of those they love.

      I rarely buy books about politicians and the last item written by a vicar that I bought was written by my great grandfather almost 100 years ago – but this one is already on my kindle.

  4. October 26, 2013 at 8:11 pm

    A sharable version….

  5. 9 Nena20409
    October 26, 2013 at 8:12 pm

    Roberta and Africa…..You ladies Rock your Gold. 🙂

    UT…..You have done it again……Great Job. Thank you.

  6. 11 donna dem 4 obama
    October 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Today I attended the 2013 White House Fall Garden Tour. There were long lines for each time slot to enter the grounds. Once we were on the Southlawn the atmosphere was electric. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day. Everyone was vying to get pictures in front of the famous south portico where PBO greets heads of state. We saw up close the balcony where we have watched so many events like the Easter egg hunt and and the Fourth of July speeches. We saw the gorgeous Rose Garden where PBO gives those daytime speeches, the Jackie Kennedy Garden and the wonderful Children’s garden.

    Our FLOTUS has done an outstanding job with the world famous Kitchen Garden. I hope they name this garden after her once the President’s term ends because she’s earned that honor. It is much bigger that I thought. It was was bursting with fresh fruits, herbs and vegetables. I learned today that it has yielded at times over a thousand pounds of produce. Although a lot of the produce from the garden is provided for the First Family and guest one-third of the harvest is donated to a charitable organization (Miriam’s Kitchen) in DC.

    A little known history fact: The White House grounds are the oldest continually maintained landscape in the United States.

    No PBO or FLOTUS or Bo sightings today but I was just happy to be as close as I was to them…

    My day on the white house grounds was another one for my memory book.

  7. 35 Nena20409
    October 26, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    This still breaks my heart hearing this president as He reads all their names.
    Thank You UT.

    I hope it is OK for this to be part of this tremendous heartfelt post.

  8. 36 hopefruit2
    October 26, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks UT for this beautiful post. A moving and inspiring tribute to the families of the victims and to their Comforter-in-Chief, our President.

  9. October 26, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    Thank you UT. So important that our Comforter-in-Chief be recognized and you have done it beautifully.

    Congrats on 1st Roberta!!

  10. October 26, 2013 at 8:23 pm

    Such a horribly wrenching moment for our country, for our President, who expressed our feelings painfully beautifully. Thank you, ut, for putting this post together. We need to remember this event with our collective conscience and rise up against this horrible senseless violence.
    What can we do? Where will we go from here?

  11. October 26, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Very much in the spirit of this thread and why it cannot be stressed enough ….

    Revile and repulse #Kochville … those seeking to build it are polar opposites of our President and the majority of Americans.

    Yes We Can

  12. 44 hopefruit2
    October 26, 2013 at 8:30 pm

  13. 47 Jovie
    October 26, 2013 at 8:33 pm

    While Federal government was shutdown, California Gov signed 363 bills into law .
    He’s good!

  14. 53 Roberta in MN
    October 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    Thanks again UTA for the great collection of pictures & comments. I didn’t stop crying for days after that happened, I kept thinking of my Grand children in Texas where everything is kind of scary.

  15. 54 Jovie
    October 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm

    • 55 Nena20409
      October 26, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      C-SPAN.org did the Cruzathon Live in IA last night.

      But FL Dems? Noooooo. They will be hearing from me on Monday.

  16. 57 Roberta in MN
    October 26, 2013 at 8:39 pm

    OT I had a conversation with a lady in our building that is really involved in the DFL here in Rochester. She wanted to know if I wanted to go to a Halloween party at one of the members houses because they were going to start meeting to help elect Hillary. I was just sick. I told her no, and take me off the donations list, the calling lists and email lists for the DFL, I will not be supporting Hillary’s run for President. She wants a woman in the WH before she passes. I said OK, just not her. I told them I will not work for her primary or her election, but will hold my nose & vote for her. I explained, she is going to have one helluva time getting elected. I just shudder. 😦

    • 58 globalcitizenlinda
      October 26, 2013 at 9:10 pm

      next time you could remind her that if she wants HRC (or any other Dem) to be #45, we must work as hard as we can to give PBO a 2014 House & Senate that can help create an easy platform for 2016;

      the road to WH in 2016 leads through 2014

  17. 59 Jovie
    October 26, 2013 at 8:41 pm

  18. 60 Jovie
    October 26, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    I like that girl Erin Andrews with the World series Microphone!
    That is all …

  19. 62 Jovie
    October 26, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    That’s cool!

  20. 64 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 8:48 pm

  21. 65 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 8:54 pm


    thanks for putting the event reminders in the article – just hits one in the gut once again (although we most of PBO’s speeches live);

    just when I think I could not love, admire and respect PBO more, something happens to make revise my current state of mind;

    these extracts put another angle into perspective about the character of PBO.

    we are so lucky PBO chose public service!

  22. 66 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    UT and other members of TODville who are affiliated with The Great State of Texas, what is up with this???

    Ps, Mr. Li is funny as hell (or as Rev Lowery would say – he is “good crazy”)

    • 67 a4alice
      October 26, 2013 at 9:24 pm

      i’m not sure Global but my husband is a Texan and he loves his chicken fried steak with gravy, mashed potatoes, black eye peas, greens and pickled jalapeno’s on the side. (DO. NOT. forget the pickled jalapeno’s or dinner is ruined.) 😉

  23. 72 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 9:03 pm

  24. 73 JER
    October 26, 2013 at 9:16 pm

  25. 77 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    I will not foward/share/tweet any more stories the pompous senator from TX who led the GOPshutdown;

    he is on my list of those who are craving attention and will do ANYTHING to get it – so naturally, he will be ignored by me

  26. October 26, 2013 at 9:42 pm

    You blog masters surely keep us informed and busy. Thank you!
    DD4O – loved your pictures and your report! Merci. 😀

  27. October 26, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    About to have leftover fried chicken from Dulan’s Soul Food. (L.A. peeps know all about that place.) And then to try and comfort Stewie, who is mourning because the missus isn’t here.

  28. 83 PoliticalJunkessa
    October 26, 2013 at 9:46 pm

    What a poignant piece on PBO’s visit to Newtown. That event really affected me and I had read a lot about it, but this telling of the behind-the-scenes events is breathtaking. We all know what a statesman he is and how fundamentally good. This adds another reason to be grateful that he is President — he possesses the gift of deep empathy for and with others. It’s not a quality that gets the praise it deserves and we are extremely fortunate that the most powerful man in the world has no reservation in feeling the pain of others.

    Thanks for featuring this article, UT

    • October 26, 2013 at 9:59 pm

      PJ, not only does empathy not get praised by many people, but it is laughed at by many and regarded as a sign of weakness. Our president is the strongest person in the world. The fortitude and courage it took to visit all of those families and give each bereaved person his full attention and then offer such incredible, heartbreaking and inspirational remarks is just beyond words. No one–no former president, no other world leader–could have done what he did.

      • 85 PoliticalJunkessa
        October 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm

        Yes, Jackie. True empathy is a great strength—-and a great burden. It is a characteristic of the best among us.

  29. 86 Luna
    October 26, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    i just bought The President’s Devotional on kindle after reading this post. 10 mins in and it truly amazing!!!

  30. 87 a4alice
    October 26, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    here’s a challenge to the #MSM. I throw down my gauntlet. (I’m being facetious ~ none of those #MSM’s will see this but, hey)


  31. October 26, 2013 at 10:01 pm

    Beautiful post….makes me love our President even more…as if I could

  32. October 26, 2013 at 10:09 pm

  33. 98 jacquelineoboomer
    October 26, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    • 99 jacquelineoboomer
      October 26, 2013 at 10:24 pm

      • 100 jacquelineoboomer
        October 26, 2013 at 10:32 pm

        • October 26, 2013 at 10:51 pm

          Republicans are such hypocrites. Unfortunatly, they have constituents who continue to vote against their own interest.

          • 102 jacquelineoboomer
            October 26, 2013 at 11:29 pm

            Yes, every election. We must outnumber them!

            • 103 HZ
              October 27, 2013 at 1:20 pm

              Jacquelineoboomer, there is a great article in the new Rolling Stone Magazine, the Nov. 7th issue that just came out. A must read for those who would like to know what are some major things that went down on the Farm Bill. Cantor and a Teabagger connected. It is something to know and then be able to write, call, tweet, or whatever it takes to give support to Sen. Debbie Stabenow,Chairmwoman of the Agriculture Committee. Please read this everyone. Very enlightening of these evil actions of these Tea Party people and Cantor and others. Tea Partier who came with that bunch in 2010 is right in the middle of it as well. It will make you angry and weep at the same time. We have to make our voices heard and our votes count in 2014. A Must. HZ

              The title of the article in Rolling Stone: The GOP’s War On The Poor. by Elizabeth Drew

        • 104 99ts
          October 26, 2013 at 11:04 pm

          right to life doesn’t mean right to eat or right to healthcare. Someone in the GOP forgot about what a life needs to live in the debate on right to life.

        • 106 globalcitizenlinda
          October 27, 2013 at 12:13 am

          great list

          • 107 jacquelineoboomer
            October 27, 2013 at 12:19 am

            Yes, it is. Hope we can look forward – someday – to not knowing or caring what “religion” somebody is, while learning whether or not they voted to kill life support for poor people, mostly kids. Should just be a matter of the moral content of their character, no matter which spiritual beliefs they hold. (Realize, in this case, that including the column for religion on the list was to make a mockery of their broadcasting that fact, of course, while voting with their other hand.)

  34. 108 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    sometimes I forget but wasn’t Ms. Bette Midler born in Hawaii ?

    • 109 desertflower
      October 26, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Yes:) When it was a territory for goodness sakes!

      Background information
      Birth name Bette Midler
      Also known as The Divine Miss M
      Born December 1, 1945 (age 67)
      Origin Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S. Territory
      Genres Vocal, pop, adult contemporary, comedy
      Occupations Singer-songwriter, actress, comedian, author, producer, activist
      Instruments Vocals-mezzo soprano, ukulele
      Years active 1965–present
      Labels Atlantic (1972–1997)
      Warner Bros. (1998–2001)
      Columbia (2002–present)
      Associated acts Barry Manilow
      Website bettemidler.com

    • 112 anniebella
      October 26, 2013 at 11:39 pm

      You sure Bette Midler wasn’t born in Kenya.

  35. 113 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 10:34 pm

  36. 114 hopefruit2
    October 26, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    A gentle, honest question:

    Did DWS & Hillary Clinton fall out? I’m asking because I knew DWS was a Hillary supporter at one time (prior to PBO winning the DEM nomination), but since PBO has been president, I noticed that I haven’t seen any tweets (or other communication) from DWS referencing Hillary in any way, shape or form. I’ve seen stuff from Jennifer Granholm, Nancy Pelosi, and others, but not from DWS. Could I be wrong?

  37. 121 globalcitizenlinda
    October 26, 2013 at 10:49 pm

  38. 123 vcprezofan2
    October 26, 2013 at 10:56 pm

    As you guys can probably tell, I’ve been wandering around the internet tonight. /Is that a groan I hear? / Okay, this is my last ‘find’ for the night, and I think you all will like it.

  39. 124 amk for obama
    October 26, 2013 at 10:58 pm

  40. 128 HZ
    October 27, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Beautiful UT. I am grateful that Mr. Dubois’ new book can remind all of us of the beautiful strength that President Barack H. Obama rely on daily from each of his steps that he has to take with much faith and encouragement from his faith. President does not flash it like a big light in the sky to blind people, but he calmly and graciously lean on it himself and with God’s grace, President Obama’s faith holds him well.

    I knew that Joshua was going to be writing a book about the president’s devotional moments, and I am so grateful that it is out now. This reminder of this post, UT and putting this in the context of Joshua’s book is a comfort to not only, I hope the families, but to our national leaders who always want to bring up St. Reagan and his deep faith, yet forgetting that every president has to have a deep sense of a moral compass when he/she will sit in the office of President. Now how they present it quietly or loudly is another book all together. It is the man loving core that can hold all of his/her faith true to his/her walk daily that really makes a difference. Some men have walked it and not just talked at us with it. And in all of my years of watching these men sit in that Oval Office, none have shown it so beautifully and lovingly, yet with humble quietness that President Barack Obama. It really serves the population well when it is done as Mr. Joshua Dubois has written it about this President.

    I cried again when I opened my computer this morning. (I am in bed with a virus that is kicking me, but I have faith to get over it with my actions to fight it) so I am a little behind in my reading. But I did get my copy of Joshua’s book this week, and I have it right next to me on my nightstand because I go back and read the daily devotionals that he sent to President Obama and I try to recall what were some of the things that took place for our president on that day. It is so moving as you read them. Our President is strengthen daily by our lifting him up in our prayers, devotional quiet times, and loving goodness space, not matter what your spiritual compass maybe. ‘Goodness of Space’ is always a beautiful way to lift him up daily with a word, a phrase, a lovely thought, a positive goodwill for his space.

    I want to also thank Donna and Collegekay for sharing with us about their visit to the WH. What a joyful time that had to be for both of them and their families. The WH Kitchen Garden is so lovely. So proud of our beautiful FLOTUS. Thank so much.

    Chips, give our beautiful Danny a loving hug. I do not want to say just from me because I would not want him to catch whatever this awful virus that has overtaken my body. So give him a TOD hug for us. That was so beautiful of our Vc to include that lovely young man singing. Just so beautiful. And our Danny O’Chips is also so beautiful. Enjoy him so much, Chips.

    Everyone have a lovely Sun. Enjoy your families and keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Life is so precious especially in such angry and hateful times; so keep your core compass of goodness daily close to you to devote your precious time and actions for the betterment of this nation. We need to see more loving actions for our President. ((((((((( Love my TOD family))))))))HZ

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