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President speaks to families, nation at Newtown service

By Ben Feller and Jim Kuhnhenn

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 04:47 p.m. HST, Dec 16, 2012

NEWTOWN, Conn. >> He spoke for a nation in sorrow, but the slaughter of all those little boys and girls left President Barack Obama, like so many others, reaching for words. Alone on a spare stage after the worst single day of his presidency, the commander in chief was a parent in grief.

"I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depth of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts," Obama said at an evening vigil in the grieving community of Newtown, Conn. "I can only hope that it helps for you to know that you are not alone in your grief."

The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary on Friday elicited horror around the world, soul-searching in the United States, fresh political debate about gun control and questions about the incomprehensible — what drove the suspect to act.

It also left a newly re-elected president openly grappling for bigger answers. Obama said that in the coming weeks, he would use "whatever power this office holds" to engage with law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and educators in an effort to prevent more tragedies like Newtown.

"Can say that we're truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I've been reflecting on this the last few days," Obama said, somber and steady as some in the audience wept.

"If we're honest without ourselves, the answer is no. And we will have to change."

He promised to lead a national effort, but left unclear was what it would be, and how much it would address the explosive issue of gun control.

"What choice do we have?" Obama said. "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?"

As Obama read some of the names of victims early in his remarks, several people broke down, their sobs heard throughout the hall.

He closed his remarks by slowly reading the first names of each of the 26 victims.

"God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory," he said.

For Obama, ending his fourth year in office, it was another sorrowful visit to another community in disbelief. It is the job of the president to be there, to listen and console, to offer help even when the only thing within his grasp is a hug.

All the victims were killed up close by multiple rifle shots.

The toll: six adults. Twenty boys and girls, all of whom were just 6 or 7 years old.

Inside the vigil children held stuffed teddy bears and dogs. The smallest kids sat on their parents' laps.

There were tears and hugs, but also smiles and squeezed arms. Mixed with disbelief was a sense of a community reacquainting itself all at once. One man said it was less mournful, more familial. Some kids chatted easily with their friends. The adults embraced each other in support.

The president first met privately with families of the victims and with the emergency personnel who responded to the shootings. That meeting happened at Newtown High School, the site of Sunday night's interfaith vigil, about a mile and a half from where the shootings took place.

"We're halfway between grief and hope," said Curt Brantl, whose fourth-grade daughter was in the library of the elementary school when the shootings occurred. She was not harmed.

Police and firefighters got hugs and standing ovations when they entered. So did Obama.

"We needed this," said the Rev. Matt Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church. "We need to be together here in this room. ... We needed to be together to show that we are together and united."

The shootings have restarted a debate in Washington about what politicians can to do help — gun control or otherwise. Obama on Friday called for leaders to agree on "meaningful action" to prevent killings.

Police say the gunman, Adam Lanza, was carrying an arsenal of ammunition big enough to kill just about every student in the school if given enough time. He shot himself in the head just as he heard police drawing near, authorities said.

A Connecticut official said the gunman's mother was found dead in her pajamas in bed, shot four times in the head with a.22-caliber rifle. The killer then went to the school with guns he took from his mother and began blasting his way through the building.

The tragedy plunged the picturesque New England town of 27,000 people into mourning.

"I know that Newtown will prevail, that we will not fall to acts of violence," said First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra. "It is a defining moment for our town, but it does not define us."

A White House official said Obama mainly wrote the speech himself. He worked with presidential speechwriter Cody Keenan, who helped Obama write his speech last year after shootings in Tucson, Ariz., left six dead and 13 wounded, including Rep. Gabby Giffords.

Just this past summer, Obama went to Aurora, Colo., to visit victims and families after a shooting spree at a movie theater in the Denver suburb left 12 dead.

In November 2009, Obama traveled to Fort Hood, Texas, to speak at the memorial service for 13 service members who were killed on the post by another soldier.

After the Colorado shooting in July, the White House made clear that Obama would not propose new gun restrictions in an election year and said he favored better enforcement of existing laws.


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allie wrote:
God bless our President!
on December 16,2012 | 01:09PM
serious wrote:
Yes, in AF-ONE--he could have taken a more fuel efficient jet--but what the heck, it's only taxpayer money--It's helicopter distance for DC????? Flying a 747--with one guy???
on December 16,2012 | 01:50PM
environmental_lady wrote:
I agree with you but also a helicopter uses a lot of fuel. More efficient would be to take a train only time was lacking.
on December 16,2012 | 03:18PM
BrianW wrote:
Helicopter uses way less fuel than 747.
on December 16,2012 | 10:17PM
aomohoa wrote:
Whether you voted for him or not, he is caring sincere person and he felt the pain of this community. After all, he is a father first.
on December 16,2012 | 03:00PM
environmental_lady wrote:
If Obama is a sincere, caring person he would immediately call for a ban on military assault weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens. Turns out he has no backbone as he's so scared of the NRA, a paper tiger.
on December 16,2012 | 03:19PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Military assault weapons are illegal right now. They are banned. I realize you probably hate any gun but you need to learn the subject matter. This is a really complicated subject and there are no ready, simple answers but if we are to have a meaningful national conversation on this important issue we need some commonality of understanding about weapons.
on December 16,2012 | 03:43PM
ballen0607 wrote:
they havent been illegal since 2004...-_-
on December 16,2012 | 06:13PM
kennysmith wrote:
do any body know that they have a program to scan people who have issues with other people?
on December 16,2012 | 03:32PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
I don't doubt his sincerity but I also am not so naive as to give him a pass on making major political hay out of a terrible tragedy. The Colorado shooting was just as horrid as Connecticut but because it was an election year, Obama avoided the issue of gun control like the plague. Now, he wants to launch a crusade on gun control - "forget about the politics." There has been a huge erosion in the privacy enjoyed by citizens in recent years and I am uncomfortable when any specific event, even one as sad as this, is used to rush through measures that impinge on Constitutional protections.
on December 16,2012 | 03:40PM
Highinthesierras wrote:
Barry is right, we need to lock up kooks. Every time "there were warning signs" but no one blows the whistle and there is no place to put these nut cases. Asylums have been closed and now they roam free on our streets.
on December 16,2012 | 04:48PM
Tanabe wrote:
I'm not an Obama supporter, but I admire how he handled this situation. This was a major tragedy that should never happen. It's horrible when a shooter goes on a rampage at a college or a work place. It's horrifying to think that someone could do it at an elementary school. So many innocent kids were lost who never had a chance to live and truly enjoy life. Unfortunately though, I don't think there is anything that the government could have done to prevent this horrible event from happening. The scariest thing in the world is an insane person with a gun, and no law could ever do anything to prevent them from doing something horrifying.
on December 16,2012 | 04:51PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Thing is, these crazies always target those that are most vulnerable. They attack a police station of a military base. It;s always somewhere when people are unprotected and unable to defend themselves. But you cannot stop crazies because ....well, because they are crazy. All the gun controls, laws and rules won't change that.
on December 16,2012 | 06:56PM
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