WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday he's traveling to Florida "to meet with some of the bravest people on earth." He was expected to thank first responders to the horrific high school shooting and may come face-to-face with parents, survivors and others, some of whom have angrily called for firm action to prevent future assaults.
Trump tweeted that he will meet with people "whose lives have been totally shattered," but did not elaborate on his plans. White House officials have not said when he would meet with those affected by the tragedy or whether he would travel to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
He had already been slated to travel to Florida to spend the weekend at his Palm Beach estate, which is about 40 miles from Parkland.
In Florida, parents and a number of students are demanding action in addition to customary offers of thoughts and prayers. More than 1,000 people attended a candlelight vigil Thursday night near the school, and at one point some began chanting, "No more gun! No more guns!"
Lori Alhadeff's 14-year-old daughter Alyssa was killed and invoked the president's 11-year-old son, Barron, as she angrily called for help.
"President Trump, Barron goes to school. Let's protect Barron. And let's also protect all these other kids," she said on CNN, her voice raising to a shout. "You need to help us, now. We need security now for all these children. We need action, action, action!"
In a departure from the original schedule, first lady Melania Trump arrived at Air Force One separately from her husband for the flight to Florida and boarded the plane while reporters were kept away. A spokeswoman said the change was due to scheduling.
Trump ignored shouted questions from journalists as he departed about a report in The New Yorker magazine that he had affair in 2006 with a Playboy model.
Trump, who frequently boasts about his support for the National Rifle Association, made no mention of gun violence or any new measure to restrict access to firearms during remarks Thursday about the shooting. He did promise to tackle school safety and "the difficult issue of mental health."
He also tweeted Friday that he was "working with Congress on many fronts," though he offered no details.
But his latest budget request would slash Medicaid, the major source of federal funding for treating mental health problems, and cut school safety programs by more than a third. Last year, he signed a resolution blocking an Obama-era rule designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people.
Police said the 19-year-old suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz, opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, killing 17 people and injuring 14 more. Investigators described him as a troubled teenager who posted disturbing material on social media and had been expelled from the high school for "disciplinary reasons," Broward County, Florida, Sheriff Scott Israel said.
The profile photo on Cruz's Instagram account showed a masked face wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat like those associated with Trump's campaign.
The shooting was the nation's deadliest at a school since a gunman attacked an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, more than five years ago.
Before he was a candidate, Trump at one point favored some tighter gun regulations. But he embraced gun rights as a candidate, and the NRA spent $30 million in support of his campaign.
During his brief televised statement, Trump said he wanted to work to "create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life," a phrase likely to resonate with his conservative base.
He pledged to work with state and local officials to "help secure our schools and tackle the difficult issue of mental health," adding that safe schools would be a key focus when he meets with governors and state attorneys general later this month.3 comments on this story
Trump made no specific policy recommendations, and he did not answer shouted questions about guns as he exited the room.
In reacting to previous mass shootings, Trump has largely focused on mental health as a cause, dismissing questions about gun control. After a shooting at a Texas church in November left more than two dozen dead, the president said, "This isn't a guns situation."
Lemire contributed from New York. AP writers Zeke Miller, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Maria Danilova contributed from Washington