During a campaign stop in Florida on Friday, President Barack Obama held a moment of silence for the victims of the shooting spree at a Colorado movie theater, which killed at least 12 people and wounded another 58.
"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," Obama told a crowd of supporters during an appearance in Fort Myers, where he held the moment of silence. "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. Such violence, such evil is senseless, it's beyond reason."
Obama, who spent the night in Florida after appearing at events in Jacksonville and West Palm Beach, had released a statement early Friday saying he and wife Michelle were "shocked and saddened by the horrific and tragic shooting in Colorado."
During the Fort Myers appearance, Obama said the shooting was a reminder that life is very fragile.
"I'm sure that many of you who are parents here had the same reaction I did when I heard this news. My daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been in the theater, as so many of our kids do every day?" he said. "Michelle and I will be fortunate enough to hug our girls a little tighter tonight and I'm sure you will do the same with your children. 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."
Authorities told NBC News that a masked gunman opened fire at an Aurora movie theater during a midnight showing of the latest Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises."
The gunman, who is in custody, stood at the front of the theater and fired into the crowd about 12:30 a.m. MDT at a multiplex theater in a mall.
Obama said he was "heartbroken" over the shooting, and had spoken with the mayor of Aurora and Colorado's governor.
"The federal government stands ready to do whatever is necessary to bring whoever is responsible for this heinous crime to justice," Obama said. "We will take every step possible to ensure the safety of all of our people."
Two federal officials, from different agencies, have identified the suspect as 24-year-old James Holmes, born December 13, 1987, NBC News’ Pete Williams reported. The AP reported that the University of Colorado Medical School said Holmes was a student there but withdrew last month.
"Federal and local law enforcement are still responding, and my Administration will do everything that we can to support the people of Aurora in this extraordinarily difficult time," Obama said in his statement. "We are committed to bringing whoever was responsible to justice, ensuring the safety of our people, and caring for those who have been wounded."
Obama was cutting his Florida trip short following the brief appearance in Fort Myers to return to the White House.
"I am so moved by your support but there are going to be other days for politics," Obama told the crowd. "This I think is a day for prayer and reflection."
A campaign event that had been scheduled for later in the day in Winter Park was canceled in light of the tragedy, his spokesman said.
"As we do when confronted by moments of darkness and challenge, we must now come together as one American family," Obama said. "All of us must have the people of Aurora in our thoughts and prayers as they confront the loss of family, friends, and neighbors, and we must stand together with them in the challenging hours and days to come."
Mitt Romney also released a statement Friday, saying he and wife Ann Romney were "deeply saddened by the news of the senseless violence."
"We are praying for the families and loved ones of the victims during this time of deep shock and immense grief. We expect that the person responsible for this terrible crime will be quickly brought to justice," he said.