WASHINGTON — The White House provided no explanation Monday amid questions over why the president had not ordered flags across the nation to half-staff in the wake of a Chattanooga, Tenn., shooting that killed five service members.
Spokesman Josh Earnest said President Barack Obama offered condolences last week and may speak to veterans at VFW conference Tuesday about the shooting, but he had no further comment.
Obama has issued presidential proclamations that lowered flags at federal facilities and military bases after many mass shootings, including attacks at the Washington Navy Yard, Fort Hood in Texas, and Sandy Hook elementary in Connecticut. The lack of a proclamation following the deaths of four Marines and sailor in a possible terrorist attack Thursday by a 24-year-old Muslim man rankled some and spark online outrage.
“I don’t have more information about the status of the flag over the White House,” Earnest said, responding to a question at a daily briefing Monday with the press.
Obama is scheduled to speak at the National VFW Convention in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
On the day of the shooting, Obama said he was offering deep condolences to the victims in Chattanooga and support to help them through the grief.
“My main message right now is, obviously, the deepest sympathies of the American people to the four Marines that have been killed,” he said, before the fifth servicemember died. “It is a heartbreaking circumstance for these individuals who have served our country with great valor to be killed in this fashion.”
Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old electrical engineer from the city, attacked a recruiting office in a strip mall and fired a deadly barrage into a Navy and Marine Corps recruiting center nearby. He was killed by local police, and the FBI is now investigating for a motive.
The governor of Tennessee on Friday ordered flags in that state to fly at half-staff. Governors in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Arkansas and Massachusetts have issued similar orders.
The mayor of Easton, Pa., a city north of Philadelphia, became a minor Facebook celebrity and received media coverage when he unilaterally decided Saturday to lower the city’s flag — a move he said should be ordered by the president or governor.
“Why wait? Our men were gunned down on our home soil,” Mayor Sal Panto Jr. wrote on his Facebook page under a photograph of the flag. His office did not return repeated calls for comment.
Obama ordered that flags be lowered to half-staff for four days after a gunman killed 12 people and injured others during a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard in 2013. Flags were lowered for five days for the first Fort Hood shooting in 2009.
President George W. Bush called for flags to be lowered for six days after 32 people were murdered in an attack at Virginia Tech in April 2007.
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., has proposed legislation to arm recruiters against attacks similar to Chattanooga. On Monday, his staff criticized Obama for not issuing a proclamation to lower flags.
“They deserve our respect, and the significance of this event should be matched by the lowering of the flag,” said Joe Kasper, Hunter’s chief of staff. “It’s a simple gesture that will reaffirm to the military and millions of Americans that these servicemen will be rightly honored. This is one that shouldn’t take any second thought on the part of the White House.”