May 8, 2013 at 8:11 AM ET
When first lady Michelle Obama heard the stunning news that three women missing for a decade had been found alive in Cleveland, she reacted just like any other mom.
“My heart just … swells up with relief, because just imagine first losing a child and not knowing whether they're alive or dead or in harm's way,” Mrs. Obama said during an exclusive interview with TODAY after signing copies of “American Grown,” her picture book about the White House Kitchen Garden, at a Washington bookstore. “And to be holding out hope for a decade and to finally have those prayers answered is just probably the best Mother's Day gift… that these families will receive.
“These families are going to have to wrap their arms around these young women and make sure that they get all the help and support they need so that they will go on and lead healthy, normal lives,” the first lady added. “We’re just grateful that they're safe. It is probably a parent's worst nightmare to lose a child in any way, shape or form. But I am just happy for these families that they found their daughters and that they're alive and safe.”
Mrs. Obama said that “unfortunately” she has become pretty “adept” when it comes to talking with daughters Malia, 14, and Sasha, 11, about national tragedies such as Aurora, Newtown, Ft. Hood, and the Boston Marathon bombings. “But the one thing we always try to point out is that, yeah, bad things happen, and there are things in life that happen that you have absolutely no control over, but the thing we want them to remember is that the overwhelming majority of people, not just in this country but around the world, are good people doing wonderful things. So I assure them that there's no reason for them to live in fear…and what we should look at is the beauty of what comes out of people in times of tragedy, how people become heroes and they turn into givers and they sacrifice …so there's a way to turn even the saddest incident into a point of inspiration for our children.”
The discussion led Mrs. Obama to reflect on kids growing up around gunfire: kids who are “worried about walking to school without getting shot,” she said. It was just about a month ago that she gave an emotional speech in her hometown of Chicago about 15-year-old girl Hadiya Pendleton, who was gunned down and killed not far from where the first lady grew up. “My hope is that we empathize with other communities, with other families who have lost young people to senseless gunfire and then we think about what can we do," she said. "What’s within our power to help change that fate? How do we make things better for more families in this country? And I think that’s something that as mothers, we have a particular sensitivity to, and we can tap into that and be a voice.”
Kelly Wallace is the chief correspondent for iVillage.com. Follow her here on Twitter @kellywallaceTV!