WASHINGTON--President Barack Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney curtailed campaigning on Friday in the wake of the shooting massacre in Aurora, Col. at a theater premiering "The Dark Knight Rises."
"There are going to be other days for politics. This, I think, is a day for prayer and reflection," Obama said.
Both men dropped partisan rhetoric in addressing the tragedy, and each spoke as a parent-- Obama from Fort Myers, Florida and Romney from Bow, New Hampshire. "What if Malia or Sasha had been at that theater" Obama said.
"I stand before you today not as a man running for office but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American," Romney said.
The president ordered flags at the White House and all federal buildings and military posts in the U.S. and abroad to be flown at half-staff through sunset on July 25 as a "mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence."
Obama cut short his Florida swing to return from Fort Myers to Washington, where he was to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Chief of Staff Jack Lew, Homeland Security Advisor John Brennan, White House counsel Kathy Ruemmler and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett.
Brennan told Obama about the shootings at 5:26 a.m., est, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, hours after the shooter entered the theater at 2:30 a.m. est..
Earlier on Friday, the White House said Obama spoke with the mayor of Aurora, Steve Hogan, and Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.
Both campaigns pulled their ads from television outlets in Colorado, a battleground state. At first Obama campaign spokesman Jen Psaki said "contrasting" spots against Romney would be yanked' later the campaign said in a statement all spots would be cancelled for the time being.
First Lady Michelle Obama and Ann Romney and Biden cancelled their campaign stops.
Romney and Obama each spoke about the Colorado tragedy at subdued events stripped of overt campaign signage.
Obama, speaking Friday morning, said, "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. But while we will never know fully what causes somebody to take the life of another, we do know what makes life worth living. The people we lost in Aurora loved and they were loved.
"They were mothers and fathers, they were husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They had hopes for the future and they had dreams that were not yet fulfilled.
"And if there's anything to take away from this tragedy, it's the reminder that life is very fragile. Our time here is limited and it is precious.
"And what matters at the end of the day is not the small things; it's not the trivial things, which so often consume us and our daily lives. Ultimately, it's how we choose to treat one another and how we love one another.
"...I'm sure that many of you who are parents here had the same reaction that I did when I heard this news. You know, my daughters go to the movies. What if Malia and Sasha had been at the theater, as so many of our kids do every day? 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," Obama said.
On Friday afternoon, in Bow, Romney said, "Our hearts break with the sadness of this unspeakable tragedy. Ann and I join the president and first lady and all Americans in offering our deepest condolences for those whose lives were shattered in a few moments -- a few moments of evil -- in Colorado.
"I stand before you today not as a man running for office but as a father and grandfather, a husband, an American. This is a time for each of us to look into our hearts and remember how much we love one another and how much we love and how much we care for our great country. There's so much love and goodness in the heart of America.
"In the coming days we'll surely learn more about the lives that have been lost and the families that have been harmed by this hateful act. We'll come to know more about the talents and the gifts that each victim possessed, and we'll come to understand the hope and the opportunity that's been lost.
"Our hearts break for the victims and their families. We pray that the wounded will recover and that those who are grieving will know the nearness of God.
Today we feel not only a sense of grief, but perhaps also of helplessness. But there is something we can do. We can offer comfort to someone near us who is suffering or heavy-laden. And we can mourn with those who mourn in Colorado," Romney said.