SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. - At a table inside the Indian Springs High School library, Mandy Pifer sat alone, the last name of her boyfriend killed in the San Bernardino terrorist attack printed on a label in front of her.
Nearby, relatives of the 13 other people killed sat and waited anxiously. Some clutched memorial service programs with the photos and biographies of their deceased. One held the invitation to President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration his brother-in-law had gleefully obtained.
Pifer wrote out a sign with the words, "I got you."
When President Obama and first lady Michelle Obama entered the room and made their way from one table to the next, spending about 10 minutes with each family Friday evening, the grief, sadness, and frustration of the last 17 days were firmly on display.
Some shed tears. Others asked questions. Everyone got a hug.
"It just felt like they were really present in their conversation with me," Pifer said. "They are sick and tired of doing these things, meeting our families."
For nearly three hours, the Obamas met with relatives of the nine men and five women killed Dec. 2 when a married couple opened fire on the husband's colleagues at a work holiday gathering in San Bernardino, about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Consoling the victims of gun violence has become a grim ritual throughout Obama's presidency. The meeting Friday came as some families are still burying their dead.
The mood in the room was somber, though each family seemed to perk up when Obama arrived at their table. For some, it was the first time they got to meet many of the other families with a relative killed in the attack. They exchanged stories.
Karen Fagan, whose ex-husband Harry Bowman, 46, was killed, said they also spoke about ending hateful rhetoric and bigotry.
"Our hope is that good can arise from the ashes of this tragedy, but that can only happen if we resist the temptation to give into fear and hate," Fagan said.