Two days after moviegoers in the Colorado municipality were sprayed with bullets in a senseless attack that killed 12 and injured 58, Obama on Sunday visited each family who had lost someone as well as survivors struggling to recover.
Speaking to reporters at the University of Colorado hospital, near the scene of the massacre, Obama acted as "comforter-in-chief" just as he had in the wake of the 2011 mass shooting in Tucscon that wounded Congresswoman Gaby Giffords. Beginning his speech by quoting Bible scripture, Obama said he had been deeply moved by his experience talking to victims and their relatives. "I come to them not so much as president, as I do as a father and husband," he said.
Obama described hearing a story of how one young woman had saved the life of her shot friend by remaining in the cinema, staunching the bleeding with her fingers, as the rampage continued. Such stories of bravery and survival were a comfort amid the tragedy, Obama said. "Even in the darkest of days life continues and people are strong and people bounce back and people are resilient."
Obama's speech was also notable for what he did not say. He deliberately avoided mentioning the suspected killer's name. And he gave no sign of entering into a political debate over stricter gun controls that could in future prevent the mass shootings that seem to have become a regular part of American life.
As Obama visited, further details emerged of the victims – police released a list of all 12, including a navy service member and a six-year-old girl whose mother was wounded and remains in hospital. Aurora held an official vigil outside the town hall – thousands gathered to lay flowers, say prayers and listen to church choirs singing in a ceremony of mourning and remembrance.
Further clues about what motivated the gunman may be revealed on Monday when suspect James Holmes makes his first appearance in court.
The murder spree stunned the suburban Denver community and shocked America as a whole. Even in a nation used to random mass killings, Aurora seemed unusually cruel and bizarre. Holmes, 24, is alleged to have propped open the side door to the Century 16 movie theatre prior to the late-night screening of new Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises. When he re-entered the suspect was armed with a military-style assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun, and was covered nearly head to toe with body armour, it is claimed.
He had apparently dyed his hair red and referred to himself as classic Batman villain the Joker, making the reference as he was taken into custody.
Police experts spent much of Saturday defusing boobytraps at Holmes's one-bedroom apartment a few miles from the theatre. They used robots and a controlled explosion to disarm a tripwire and other devices he had allegedly left in the Paris Street home.
Police have suggested it all forms a picture of a man who meticulously planned for Friday's massacre. Holmes, a bright and talented science student, is alleged to have prepared for months. He had apparently spent more than $15,000 on the internet amassing an arsenal of 6,000 rounds of ammunition and his bulletproof clothing.
At least 90 packages were delivered to Holmes over a period of four months. Police say they have collected surveillance footage of Holmes collecting his purchases – vital for prosecutors seeking to show he carefully planned the crime well in advance.
"What we're seeing here is evidence of, I think, some calculation and deliberation," said the Aurora police chief, Daniel Oates.
Holmes bought his four guns in person at local gun shops. All of the firearms, ammunition and equipment were purchased legally, taking advantage of America's relaxed gun ownership laws.
Despite his collection of weapons and bullets it is clear that no one saw Holmes as a serious threat. He may have been having a hard time finding work, and was leaving his postgraduate studies in Colorado, but Holmes has been consistently described as a quiet, shy individual who seemed normal and certainly not a potential mass killer.
In a resume posted on the job hunting website Monster.com, Holmes listed himself as an "aspiring scientist" and said he was looking to work as a laboratory technician. Instead of finding a job he appears to have dedicated himself to creating spectacular mass carnage.
He transformed his apartment into a lethal trap by priming explosives and turning on music at a high volume, police say. Residents fortunately did not open the door and instead called the authorities.
"The apartment was designed to kill whoever entered it," said Oates, outlining a belief that it might have been aimed specifically at taking out Aurora police officers responding to the shooting. "If you think we are angry, we sure as hell are angry."
It emerged that the massacre could have been worse if not for one of Holmes's weapons apparently jamming in the theatre. The Associated Press, quoting an unnamed federal law enforcement official, reported that Holmes's semi-automatic rifle stopped working, forcing him to change to a gun with a much lower rate of fire. That almost certainly reduced the death toll but is likely to be of little comfort to the relatives of the 12 dead and many wounded.
As the identities of those killed emerged over the weekend, it was revealed that the youngest victim was six-year-old Veronica Moser-Sullivan, who had just learned to swim over the summer. Her mother, Ashley Moser, remains in hospital with gunshot wounds. Other victims included a local bartender, a serving soldier and restaurant workers.
The list of dead and injured was a random slice of suburban American life. The only thing that truly united them was the fateful choice to go and see The Dark Knight Rises late on Friday.
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