- By George Bennett Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited recovering victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting on Friday and met with law enforcement officers who responded to the massacre that claimed 17 lives.
Trump made the unannounced visit to Broward Health North Hospital shortly after arriving at Palm Beach International Airport west of West Palm Beach for a three-day weekend at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach.
Air Force One arrived about 5:30 p.m. with Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio accompanying the president. Rather than making the customary short eastward trip to Mar-a-Lago, the presidential motorcade headed west on Southern Boulevard and south on Florida’s Turnpike through Palm Beach County to Broward County.
The president and first lady arrived at the hospital about 6:35 p.m. and spent more than 30 minutes talking to victims of the shooting. They emerged with Dr. Igor Nichiporenko, a trauma surgeon, and spoke briefly to reporters.
“It’s very sad that something like this could happen but the job the doctors did and the nurses, the hospital, first responders, law enforcement — really incredible,” Trump said.
It was not clear if Trump planned to meet with the families of any of those killed.
FULL COVERAGE: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting
After the hospital visit, Trump’s motorcade headed to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel’s headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, where the president met with about 30 law enforcement officers and first responders from several jurisdictions and thanked them for their response to the shooting.
Rubio, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and Melania Trump also attended the meeting. White House chief of staff John Kelly was also visible in a hallway outside the room where the meeting took place.
“What a great job you’ve done. We appreciate it very much,” Trump told the officers. He said there had been talk of him visiting Sunday or Monday, but “we didn’t want to wait.”
Melania Trump also thanked the group and, speaking of the children, said, “They’re our future and let’s take care of them because they will go through a lot.”
Said Rubio: “This is a community and a state that is in deep pain and they want action to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Trump replied: “You can count on it.”
Trump told the group he had visited a girl at the hospital who had been hit with four bullets, including two in the lungs, and “had no chance” if first responders hadn’t rushed her quickly to the hospital.
Trump had several officers tell him their names and what they did.
“Great job. I heard about that. I heard about you,” Trump said to one SWAT team member.
“You have a great story to tell,” Trump said to Coconut Creek Police Officer Michael Leonard, who spotted and arrested the gunman in a residential neighborhood after he had fled the scene of the shooting.
After Leonard told of the arrest, Trump joked: “That was so modest. I would have told it much differently. I would have said without me, they never would have found him.”
Trump’s motorcade left Fort Lauderdale at 8:45 p.m. and headed north on Interstate 95 to Palm Beach County.
Many Democrats and others have called for tighter gun restrictions in the wake of the shooting, but Trump did not respond to one reporter’s shouted question in Pompano Beach about gun laws.
In a tweet from Washington on Friday morning, Trump said he would be meeting with “some of the bravest people on earth — but people whose lives have been totally shattered. Am also working with Congress on many fronts.”
Shortly before taking off for Palm Beach on Friday afternoon, Trump also declared that he had been vindicated by special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments of 13 Russians for meddling in the 2016 election.
“Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for president. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!” Trump tweeted while en route from the White House to Joint Base Andrews.
In a statement released by the White House, Trump referred to Russia as an example of “bad actors” — a departure from previous statements casting doubt on Russian interference in the election.
Trump is expected to remain in Palm Beach through Monday. This is his 13th visit to Palm Beach since becoming president.