LIVE BLOG/CHAT: Obama shortens trip, 'there are other days for politics'

President Obama speaks in Fort Myers

Obama addresses movie theater massacre.

President Barack Obama will talk about the economy when he returns to the Harborside Event Center today in downtown Fort Myers. That's the same place the president held a town hall meeting in 2009 to rally support for his $800 billion-plus stimulus package.

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POSTED at 12:05 p.m.

The shootings in Colorado hit close to home for Punta Gorda Tea Party President Paula Schaff. Her son, then 25, was gunned down in a Georgia gas station in 1985.

Schaff said gun laws would not have saved his life.

"Gun laws are adhered to by lawful people like me," said Schaff, who was among about 50 Obama protesters in Fort Myers today.

Obama cut short his campaign stop because of the tragedy in Colorado, a decision that pleased supporter John Heim.

"It impresses me even more. Him being a humanitarian is more important than any campaign speech," said Heim, of Fort Myers Beach.

Heim, 42, brought his daughter, Willow, 9, for the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Fanning herself in a line that twisted around several city blocks to get into the event center, Vivian Moreland said gun crimes must stop.

"There's a lot of guns right here in Lee County," she said. "That's a bad thing. Innocent people die."

Obama protester Chris Cammarota of Cape Coral said responsible gun owners would be a solution to events like the mall shooting.

"If everyone else was armed (at the site of the shooting), there'd be minimum loss of life," he said.

POSTED at 11:40

The Black family was one of about 75 families that got to meet with President Barack Obama before his brief remarks.

Lydia Black said her family was fortunate to have the chance to meet with Obama and was thrilled he took the time to speak with the families, despite the change in plans.

“It was an honor,” she said.

The Blacks said they understood the need to change plans, and said if he hadn't addressed the incident in Colorado it would've been cause for concern.

“We can relate and understand,” she said. “It's a scary situation.”

Chris Black said while the debate about gun control is always present, he imagines the Colorado shootings will spur public debate.

Still the Blacks said they relished their moment with the president, who shook their hands and asked Emerson, their six-year-old daughter, if she knew someone stole her two front teeth.

Emerson lost her two front teeth, and on Friday as her parents spoke with reporters, she wiggled a third tooth as she giggled at the thought of talking to the president.

POSTED at 11:35

In a campaign season, those in attendance to see President Barack Obama on Friday morning said they were happy to leave the politics behind for a more important reason.

Obama kept his speech to less than 10 minutes Friday and spoke only about the tragedy in Aurora, Colo. Friday morning. Twelve people were killed by a lone gunman during a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."

"It's nice to see that, as important as these campaigns are, that he would stop to think about the people involved in this tragedy," said Fort Myers resident Marcella Perri. "I am grateful he's the one in charge now."

Perri said she believes that, in situations like what happened in Colorado, it is education that makes the difference.

"Guns are not the problem. It's the people and what causes those people to get to that point," she said.

Obama asked the audience to keep their prayers with the victims and their families.

" We may never understand what leaves anyone to terrorize their fellow human beings like this. ... We do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in (Colorado) loved and were loved," he said.

Naples resident Margie Barnett said she hoped the audience took what Obama said to heart.

"What went on last night, it goes back to we need more Bible-based training. .. It's sad that out children are not able to go to school or to the movies without fear," she said.

Barnett said the solution to problems like what happened in Colorado starts in the home.

"Families are directed in so many ways. We need to make sure we are in touch with our children," she said.

Rick Maskeri, a Fort Myers resident, said he never realized so many people owned guns until he moved to Florida from Illinois.

"I didn't know guns were so easy to get," he said. "I don't know what the answer is."

Lori Rheaume, who brought her 10-year-old daughter Katie to see Obama speak, said she doesn't believe gun control measures would ever make it through the Legislature. That said, she said even if it did it might not prevent tragedies like Colorado.

"How do you stop something like that? When someone is intent on doing something," she said.

POSTED at 11:30

To Perra Bell, the president had no choice.

In light of Friday morning's shooting in Aurora, Colo., President Barack Obama had to cut short his visit and adjust his speech, flipping it from a political event to moment of solitude, Bell said.

"I'm very proud of how he handled it," said Bell, 92, of Marco Island. "He couldn't ignore the circumstances. We all understand that what he did was absolutely necessary,"

Spectators inside Harborside Events Center collectively expressed some disappointment that Obama couldn't deliver a fiery speech that would incite his base. Yet they understood the campaign's decision to call an audible after the shooting that, according to reports, killed 12 people.

Tom Garner expected the tone of Obama's speech to soften when he awoke at 5 a.m. this morning and saw news reports from Colorado.

"I think it was very appropriate," said Garner, a 66-year-old campaign volunteer from Port Charlotte. "There's more important things than politics. You have to give the nation some time to heal. Politics is just a game and nothing else."

The crowd of about 1,000 people had largely filed out by 11:20 a.m., when Obama originally planned to deliver his remarks. As she left, Christina Jordan, 30, of Fort Myers, called the shooting "surreal," applauding Obama's decision to go with a somber seven-minute speech.

"It's disappointing, but it's realistic," Jordan said. "There's a time and a place for everything."

POSTED AT 11:00

President Barack Obama spoke for less than 10 minutes and addressed only the movie theater massacre in Colorado during this morning's speech at Harborside Event Center.

"I am so moved by your support. But there are going to be other days for politics," the president said. " This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection."

A gunman in a gas mask barged into the crowded Denver-area theater during a midnight premiere of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises" earlier this morning, hurled a gas canister and then opened fire, killing 12 people and injuring at least 50 others in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.

"If there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's a reminder that life is precious," Obama said.

The president was expected to hold a campaign rally and more than a thousand people showed up to hear him speak about the middle class. But about 10 minutes before the president took the stage, a local campaign official took to stage to inform the crowd of the change.

“I know you're all very excited to hear the president speak, however events (in Colorado) have changed the nature of the event,” said Denise Morelo. “The president will address the tragedy before heading back to (Washington, D.C.).”

The president was expected to take the stage at 11:20 a.m. Instead, he took appeared on stage around 10:45 a.m. and spoke for seven minutes.

“I am sure that many of you that 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 at the theater,” he said. “Michelle and I will be fortunate to hug our girls a little tighter tonight.”

But Obama said there are many parents who won't be able to hug their children, and encouraged Americans to “embrace them and them them know that we will be there for them as well.”

Supporters showed their support for the president and the Colorado families. Some even shouted “we're here for Colorado and for you.”

Obama is now headed back to the White House. An event scheduled for later today in Winter Park has been cancelled.

POSTED AT 9:10 a.m.

White House officials at the airport have told reporters President Obama's trip to Fort Myers this morning will be shortened due to world events.

President Obama will address the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado in remarks in Ft. Myers, Florida this morning. Then he will return to the White House. In light of the tragedy in Colorado, the event in Winter Park, Florida will be cancelled.

POSTED AT 8:45 a.m.

Port Charlotte resident Sharon Topping is a registered Republican.

But she was standing happily in line Friday morning for her chance to see President Barack Obama, waiving a "Mama for Obama" bumper sticker.

"I feel like I could sit down and have a cup of coffee with him," she said. "And I feel like he would have a cup of coffee with me."

It is that "man of the people" image that drew many to see Obama at Harborside Event Center in Fort Myers Friday.

Julia McIntyre, a retired engineer from Port Charlotte, said Obama represents all of the things she is looking for in a candidate, including on women's issues and immigration reform.

Still, Jason Isom, of Fort Myers, said he was hoping Obama would speak about jobs and the economy.

"He has to get us back to work," he said. "We can't keep this up."

Many acknowledged that Obama will have a tough challenge in presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Collier County teacher Jason Siciliano said although he voted for Obama in the last election, he has not been completely pleased with the job the president has done.

"There are things I could be critical of and am disappointed with," he said. "At the same time, if I disagree with what he's done, the alternative has not convinced me that what they have come up with is the best choice."

Siciliano said Friday he hoped Obama would talk about education and what he will do to improve the lives of children. He might be disappointed, though, as Obama was expected to cut his visit short and speak about the victims of a massive shooting in Colorado Thursday evening.

Topping said she is planning to vote for the president come November.

"I think he's the best president we've had in my lifetime," said the retired teacher.

POSTED AT 8:30 a.m.

Joan Gibble was so excited to see President Barack Obama today that she just might cry.

Gibble, a Fort Myers nurse practitioner, carried a handmade sign praising Obama's health care law. Gibble said she was thrilled that the Supreme Court upheld the majority of the law.

"In America we take care of people," she said.

Gibble said her husband, a Republican, waited for three hours Wednesday to get her a ticket. She said she would do the same for him if Mitt Romney came to town.

POSTED AT 8:30 a.m.

All appears civil in downtown Fort Myers, where several hundred people now line four blocks waiting for doors to open in a half hour.

Near the front of the line, Gerald Jenkins has seen about 20 or so people cut in front of him since he arrived at 3 a.m. But when those doors swing open, he still expects a good seat.

"I'm going to try to control my temper," said Jenkins, 52, of Fort Myers. "Some people are inconsiderate, but as soon as the time to go in comes, I'll let them know that."

Only a few protesters have been spotted early this morning.

POSTED AT 7:15 a.m.

Southwest Floridians awoke bright and early this morning to get in line for President Barack Obama's visit to Fort Myers, with a line stretching about a block and a half outside Harborside Events Center as of 7 a.m.

Locals hoping to catch a glimpse of Obama arrived as early as 8:30 p.m. Thursday, with some camping out overnight on Bay Street, right in front of the convention center.

A few hundred people all stood behind Josie Phelps, a 37-year-old mother of two from Fort Myers, who sat first in line with her daughters, sister, mother and a friend.

Phelps, an Obama supporter, said she wanted a chance to greet Obama and have him sign a copy of Time Magazine, the one with Osama Bin Laden's face crossed out on the cover.

More importantly, Phelps said, she wanted her daughters to become politically engaged at a young age.

"I think they're our future. It's cliche, but it's true," Phelps said. "It's a very empowering thing for them to see this."

A few spots behind Phelps, Judy Stewart patiently waited for entrance. Stewart, who was fifth in line for Obama's February 2009 appearance in Fort Myers, arrived this time at midnight, armed with a pillow. She slept on the street for about an hour.

"I know that it fills up really fast," Stewart said.

The 59-year-old Fort Myers said much has changed since Obama's last local appearance.

"I really wouldn't say that my view of him has changed, but I'd just say he has to put his nose to the grindstone and do better," Stewart said.

Doors open at 9 a.m., with Obama set to speak at about 11:20 a.m.

POSTED AT 7 a.m.

President Barack Obama is warning Florida retirees that Republican challenger Mitt Romney would undercut the new health care law and alter Medicare, a play for voters in one of the nation's top swing states.

Obama wraps up a two-day trip to Florida on Friday with stops in Fort Myers and suburban Orlando, where he is pressing the case that retirees would be hurt by Romney's opposition to the health care law and by Republican-led efforts to turn Medicare into a "voucher program." Romney is keeping his focus on the economy, charging that Obama remains more concerned about holding onto his own job than creating more jobs for Americans.

In pre-convention summertime campaigning, Obama and Romney are locked in a tight contest and seeking advantages in about a dozen toss-up states that could help decide the election. None is more prominent than Florida, which narrowly decided the 2000 election and could provide a major boost to whoever prevails here.

Obama, addressing elderly residents of a sprawling South Florida condominium complex on Thursday, jumped on Romney's opposition to the health care law. He said repeal of the law, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, would force more than 200,000 Floridians to pay more for their prescription drugs.

The president charged Romney with seeking to turn Medicare into a voucher program, drawing jeers from retirees at West Palm Beach's Century Village, home to thousands of reliably Democratic voters.

"So if that voucher isn't worth enough to buy the health insurance that's on the market, you're out of luck," he said. "You're on your own."

Check back at naplesnews.com/obama for more on this story, including photos and video.

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