VICENZA, Italy (AP) — Michelle Obama shared her dismay Friday over the killings of nine worshippers at a historic black church in the United States, telling American soldiers and their families based in Italy that she hopes such tragedies "will one day come to an end."
"We have seen too many tragedies like this," Mrs. Obama said of the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. "There is something particularly horrifying about something that happens so senseless in a house of worship."
After the moment of solemnity, the U.S. first lady turned her attention to thanking the soldiers and their families for their service.
She noted that soldiers from U.S. Army Africa based in Vicenza were "the first American military boots on the ground to stop the spread of Ebola" and that the 173rd Brigade, also in Vicenza, deployed paratroopers in recent days so that "for so many, that means another Father's Day without Dad around."
Mrs. Obama said one of her missions as first lady is "to make sure I shine a light, a really bright light, on all of you and everything that you do for the folks back home."
The first lady then spent a half an hour among the troops shaking hands and giving hugs. Nearby, first daughters Malia and Sasha, Mrs. Obama's mother Marion Robinson and a cousin scooped ice cream for the soldiers, their spouses and children.
Mario Caballero, who serves in the 173rd brigade, and his wife Sabrina Rezzara were standing nearby hoping to give the first lady a gift, a party favor from their 10-month-old son's baptism.
"I love her. She's amazing. I love all the support she gives to the troops," said Rezzara, an Italian from Vicenza.
The first lady and her daughters later read books to about 150 children in the middle school gymnasium, and Mrs. Obama presided over a surprise baby shower for 23 expectant mothers from the base.
She was to speak privately afterward with the pregnant women to discuss their concerns about the closure of the birthing center on the base last year, according to a base official.
Before Vicenza, the first lady spent days in Milan promoting the healthy eating agenda behind her "Let's Move" initiative in conjunction with Milan's Expo 2015 world's fair focusing on food and nutrition. Her four-stop trip started in London and will wrap up with cultural stops in Venice.
On Thursday in Milan, Obama, her daughters, her mother and cousin lit candles inside Milan's Gothic-inspired Duomo for the victims of the South Carolina shooting.
Speaking to the troops and her family in Vicenza on Friday, she referred to her husband's expression of anger and sadness at the slayings.
"As my husband said yesterday, simply saying our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families and community of Charleston simply does not convey the heartache that we feel," Mrs. Obama said.