Yamiche Alcindor and Melanie Eversley,USA TODAY
BOSTON - President Obama found himself at an all too familiar event Thursday; a somber ceremony where he tried to comfort victims of a deadly tragedy.
"Everyone of us has been touched by the attack on your beloved city,'' Obama said, speaking at an interfaith service here at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross dedicated to the three people killed and 176 injured at Monday's Boston Marathon bomb attacks.
"For millions of us, what happened in Boston Monday is personal,'' he said.
Reaching out to victims and families, the president offered condolence and prayers. He also issued a warning to those responsible for the attacks. "They picked the wrong city to do this,'' Obama said.
"Yes we will find you. And yes, you will face justice,'' he said, later calling their acts "small and senseless."
Obama also met with survivors, victims' families and first responders, joined by First lady Michelle Obama.
The sad duty has unfortunately become somewhat familiar as he made similar trips to comfort survivors after the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Aurora, Colo.
Obama spoke following 2009 serial shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, which killed 13 servicemembers; the 2010 shooting in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.; the 2012 shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater that left 12 dead; and the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six staff members were killed.
Speaking ahead of the President at the interfaith ceremony, long-time Boston Mayor Thomas Merino praised firefighters, medical personnel and Bostonians for reacting swiftly to attend to victims. "This was the strength of our city at work,'' he said. "Nothing will take us down, because we take care of each other."
Groups of people came in waves to the church, surrounded by volunteers dressed in bright yellow Boston Marathon jackets. A woman began openly sobbing as she neared the entrance. Hospital staffers and volunteers from the American Red Cross quickly surrounded her, embracing her and helping her walk.
Anne Thibau, who was injured in the leg and back from Monday's blasts, wore a T-shirt reading "I Love Boston" as she prepared to enter the cathedral. She wasn't hoping for any particular message from the president, but simply wanted to be in a place of comfort. "I thank God that I walked away" from the blasts, said Thibau, 57.
Boston resident Sharon Butler-Charles was among a swarm of people who'd gotten to the cathedral early Thursday, but not early enough to get a ticket inside.
"I hope (Obama) offers a message of healing," said Butler, 50, a program manager for Boston Public Schools. "I was born and raised in Dorchester, and I really felt for the little fellow that was killed (Martin Richard, 8, Dorchester)," Butler-Charles said. "I just wanted to give support."
Dozens of people gathered in the gymnasium of Cathedral High School to watch the service. Inside, people filled bleachers while others stood or sat on wood floors across from a projector and basket ball hoops. Security to get inside was tight as police searched purses and confiscated items like apples, which one officer warned could be thrown. Anyone entering had to pass through a metal detector. There was silence as the service began and people stared intently at the images of speakers whose voices echoed through the room.
Regina Fisher, 57, got in line at 11 p.m. Wednesday and stood outside all night.
"I haven't slept a wink and I probably won't sleep when I get home," she said. "I came because I care about people and it hurts me when innocent souls get hurt."
Fisher, of Boston, learned about the bombings as she was getting ready to take her grandson down to the finish line of the marathon. She's watched the race for years, often cheering on runners. It could have been her or her grandson, Fisher said she kept thinking when she learned about the deaths and horrific injuries.
Fisher said she wanted to hear Obama talk about stepping up security for Boston and preventing similar tragedies.
"I know he's an intelligent man," Fisher said. "Hopefully he'll step up when events like this happen. I'm just concerned about the safety and protection of people."
Bostonian Amanda Ayers was volunteering at the marathon's mile 18 water station when the explosions hit. She doesn't know anyone who was killed or hurt. But Thursday morning, Ayers, 27, got to the line to get into the church just as general admissions tickets were being passed out at 7 a.m.
Watching Obama on television didn't feel personal enough, said Ayers, a student at Boston University.
"Being here, with other people makes it real," she said. "This happened in our city. I want to be with my Boston people."
Greg Packer, 49, took a bus from New York on Wednesday night to be in Boston for the service. He's attended vigils and prayed with residents because for him, a person who often frequents sporting events, this is personal. He came to stand in line for the event at 1:30 a.m. Thursday.
"I wanted to be here in person because I wanted to hear what the president had to say," said Packer of Huntington, N.Y. "I ask that he brings us words of hope and doesn't make it political. I don't want to hear about water-downed background checks or guns."