(CNN) — First lady Melania Trump, who had not been seen publicly for the past 24 days, attended an official White House event with President Donald Trump Monday afternoon.
The event, a private East Room reception for more than 40 Gold Star military families, was not in and of itself an unusual activity for the first lady of the United States. However, the first lady’s absence made her appearance all the more newsworthy.
In a statement Monday night, Trump said it was a privilege to welcome the military families to the White House, and she thanked them and military members more broadly for their service.
“To all those who have lost loved ones in service to our country, our nation grieves with you,” her statement read. “It is a solemn reminder that we, the American people, are able to live as freely as we do because of the selfless sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. We remain indebted to each of them and we honor them today, together, with their families.”
The Gold Star event on Monday was closed to the press, with no opportunity for media photos or video, a decision made out of respect for the military family members, Trump’s communications director Stephanie Grisham told CNN. It’s the same treatment a similar event the Trumps hosted last year got.
A person inside the room told CNN’s Jeff Zeleny that the President made a lighthearted joke about the first lady’s extended absence from public view, saying the media was asking: “Where’s Melania?”
He went on for a minute or so, saying the media was speculating where she has been.
“Did she leave him?” the President asked at one point, before pointing out that Melania Trump was, in fact, sitting in the front row. The riff was playful, but a bit awkward considering the event was to honor Gold Star families, who have lost loved ones at war.
The President also talked about the strong economy during the event, the person inside the room said.
The first lady’s lack of recent viewings, prior to Monday’s event, has created a storm of “where is she?” memes on the internet, and speculation on her whereabouts ran the gamut, from New York City to Palm Beach. She was, according a tweet Trump sent last week, at the White House, “feeling great.”
Amid the scrutiny, and ahead of the Gold Star reception, Grisham told CNN there was nothing to the rumors, blaming the media for piquing public interest.
“Mrs. Trump has always been a strong and independent woman who puts her family, and certainly her health above all else, and that won’t change over a rabid press corps,” said Grisham. “She’s confident in what she is doing and in her role, and knows the rest is just speculation and nonsense.”
However, the volume of concern, and the cacophony of the conspiracy chorus, wasn’t solely from the media. Twitter was abuzz with theories from political observers, both on the left and the right, with a public anxious to see their first lady.
On May 10, the first couple welcomed home American hostages from North Korea. Smiling for cameras from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, Melania Trump wore a checkered suit and her ubiquitous high heels, appearing happy and well for the 3 a.m. celebration of citizens returning to American soil. Yet four days later, on May 14, the first lady’s office released the news that Trump had been admitted to Walter Reed Military Medical Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, for what her spokeswoman described as a medical procedure for a benign kidney condition.
The first lady remained hospitalized for five nights following the procedure, which was successful and without complication, according to a statement issued by Grisham.
However, Trump’s absence from public view would extend for several more days.
Prior to her medical incident, the first lady’s popularity was on the rise, according to a recent CNN poll, and she was seemingly growing more comfortable in the spotlight, hosting her first official state dinner and announcing her formal platform initiatives.