SAN BERNARDINO, California — Residents still coming to terms over how something as distant and removed as terrorism could shake their ordinary, American town were offered only some comfort from President Obama’s Oval Office address to the nation Sunday night.
“We’re still scared,” Esther Gutierrez said. “I never thought it would hit this close. We’re so low-key. I never thought this would happen.”
Interrupting Sunday night dinners, NFL highlights and a grueling game in Kobe Bryant’s retirement tour for the Los Angeles Lakers, San Bernardino residents gaped at their TV screens as the president addressed the American public on a tragedy that had unfolded this week less than a mile down the road.
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“As a father to two young daughters who are the most precious part of my life, I know that we see ourselves with friends and co-workers at a holiday party like the one in San Bernardino. I know we see our kids in the faces of the young people killed in Paris,” Obama said.
Residents are still processing how two armed assailants could walk into a holiday party and open fire, killing 14 people in cold blood and injuring 21 others.
What’s been even more unimaginable for residents is the fact the massacre is being investigated as a terror attack, carried out by two seemingly ordinary residents who had somehow been radicalized.
“I don’t think you can wake up one day and say ‘I’m going to be a terrorist.’ It’s got to be grown, it’s got to be nurtured,” said Nathan Hart, a former law enforcement officer who is now retired, living in San Bernardino. “This is our backyard. And that part bothers San Bernardino. That bothers my community.”
According to NBC News, a senior administration official said Obama’s choice to address the public from the Oval Office – something he’s done only two other times – was intended to reflect the gravity of the situation.
But some residents in San Bernardino were hoping to see more compassion from the president in the midst of the tragedy they were still wading through.
Gutierrez said she and her husband went to the local Claim Jumper joint to catch Obama’s address on one of the dozens of television screens hanging throughout the bar and restaurant.
“I was looking forward to it. I hoped it would do something for me,” said Esther Gutierrez.
But instead, she said she felt let down.
“It felt like they were empty words,” she said.
Her husband, Danny Gutierrez, readily admits that he’s never been much of a fan of the president. But he was looking for more acknowledgment of the horror that residents had witnessed this week and for the president to focus on the needs of the people of San Bernardino.
Instead, Gutierrez said he heard a lot of the focus be placed on parts of the world thousands of miles away.
“It didn’t make me feel very safe,” he said.
Derrick Vasquez, who was on lockdown Wednesday as police engaged in a shootout with the attack’s perpetrators, said he appreciated the president’s address and hoped it would help ease away the trauma that so many in his community faced.
Many of his peers had said they were too fearful to leave their homes, even to attend candlelight vigils to honor those killed in cold blood this week.
“This was absolutely horrific,” Vasquez said. “But we have to show we are survivors. People need to go out and show we are strong.”