Bill Clinton photo

Remarks to the White House Volunteers

April 21, 1999

Thank you. You know, Hillary and I look forward to this day so much every year. We want to thank you for what you do. We want to say to America we could not run the White House without you.

It happens that this day was scheduled on what has turned out to be a very sad day for America. And since, in my mind, you represent the best of American citizenship by what you do here every day as volunteers, I think it is important that we take a little time to ponder how we, as American citizens, should respond to what has occurred in Colorado.

First of all, I think it is important that we remember that we must come together and pray together but also commit to act together. In Littleton, we saw and we continue to see horror and agony. We also see in that horror and agony the ties that bring us together as a national community: the police officers rushing toward the sound of gunfire with bravery and professionalism, the students risking their own lives for their friends, the doctors and paramedics summoning all their skills under astonishing pressure, the parents and neighbors whose love and concern sustained their children through that last long night and who will be called upon to do much more in the days and weeks to come. We see, in a moment of agony, what is best in our community and in our country. I have been particularly struck by the story of Mrs. Miller, the teacher who heard the gunfire and led dozens of students to safety in the choir room, who worked to keep them calm and quiet for hours while students removed ceiling tiles to let in more air. Doubtless, we will learn more stories of quick thinking and grace under pressure as the details unfold. All of us are struggling to understand exactly what happened and why. There is a deep desire to comfort the grieving and counsel the children. We must also focus on what we are going to do.

In Littleton, agents from the ATF and the FBI already are on the ground, providing tactical assistance to local authorities. Highly trained crisis workers are ready to help people cope with their loss. Fortunately, one of the most outstanding centers in the Nation for this sort of work is in Denver.

Perhaps the most important thing all of us can do right now is to reach out to each other and to families and their young children. It is very important to explain to children, all over America, what has happened, and to reassure our own children that they are safe.

We also have to take this moment, once again, to hammer home to all the children of America that violence is wrong. And parents should take this moment to ask what else they can do to shield our children from violent images and experiences that warp young perceptions and obscure the consequences of violence, to show our children, by the power of our own example, how to resolve conflicts peacefully.

And as we learned at the White House Conference on School Safety and as is reflected in the handbook that the Secretary of Education and the Attorney General sent to all of our schools, we must all do more to recognize and look for the early warning signals that deeply troubled young people send often before they explode into violence. Surely more of them can be saved, and more innocent victims and tragedies can be avoided.

In the days ahead, we will do all we can to see what else can be done. For now, when the school has apparently just been cleared of bombs and not all the children who were slain have been carried out, I think it is important on this day that we continue to offer the people of Colorado, the people of Littleton, the families involved, the sure knowledge that all of America cares for them and is praying for them.

So I ask you to now join me in a moment of silent prayer for those who lost their lives, for those who were wounded, for their families, and those who love them and care for their community.

[At this point, a moment of silence was observed.]


Now let me say that on this sad day I also want America to know that I came here to be with you because, in many of the sad moments of this administration and many of the greatest moments of our happiness and achievements for the American people, the ability of the White House to connect to them rests solely in the hands of people who are not paid employees of the Federal Government. Most Americans still have utterly no idea how many hundreds and hundreds of people volunteer at the White House, without which we could not do our jobs.

I got a note the other day from a person thanking me because the child of a friend of his had received a letter from the White House. And he said, "I know you didn't sign that letter, but children expect to get their letters answered." That is just one example of things that would not happen, were it not for you. All over America, whenever someone comes up to me and tells me that they've had some contact from the White House that I know came because of a volunteer, I am once again grateful for what you do.

So I thank you for sharing this very profoundly sad moment with me and with our country. But I also thank you for making it possible for us to do our work, for the people of Littleton and the people of America. We are very, very grateful.

Thank you, and God bless you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 10:37 a.m. in Presidential Hall (formerly Room 450) in the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Columbine High School science teacher Theresa Miller.

William J. Clinton, Remarks to the White House Volunteers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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