A somber President Obama told a shattered community that the nation
has let its children down.
"We're not doing enough," Obama said during an interfaith service at Newtown High School on Sunday night. "And we will have to change. Since I've been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, [the] fourth time we've hugged survivors, the fourth time we've consoled the families of victims.
The president's 18-minute speech was more about providing comfort to the emotionally fragile citizens of Newtown than about laying out his legislative agenda on gun control. However, he made clear his intentions to seek a new path to end gun violence.
Obama pledged to "use whatever power this office holds" to engage law enforcement, mental health professionals, parents and teachers in an effort to reduce gun violence.
"We can't accept events like this as routine," Obama said. "Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"
Obama spoke to about 800 people in an auditorium located less than a half-mile from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where six adults and 20 children were killed in one of the worst mass shootings in the nation's history. Another 1,200 or so gathered in the high school gymnasium to watch a video feed of the service.
A wave of heavy sobs could be heard throughout the auditorium when Obama listed the names of the slain teachers, school psychologist and school principal. Those sobs were audible when he concluded his comments by saying the first names of the 20 slain children.
Speaking Sunday night, Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llorda, fresh off a series of challenges wrought by the recent prolonged power outage due to storm Sandy, said nothing could prepare her for the heartache her community encountered Friday. She was comforting, telling townspeople they will persevere. The shooting was "a defining moment," she said, "but it does not define us."
Obama, who earlier in the day went to his daughter Sasha's dance recital, spoke about the joy and anxiety of parenthood, which he compared to "the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who spoke just before the president, said Obama told him that Friday was the most difficult day of his presidency.
"I chose to think about the fact that in the coming days, we will officially enter winter and that is always to be followed by the spring," Malloy said. "I will be thinking of those 27 souls lost just a few days ago each time the day gets a little longer. ... I will think and dream of the lives that might have been and the lives that were so full of grace."
There was music and prayers but also long stretches of silence, allowing people the space to grieve silently. The speakers sat among the audience, in a symbolic gesture to show they, too, were part of a community in need of healing. A rabbi recited a prayer and a Christian minister read a passage from the Bible, relying on ancient texts to provide comfort to those reeling from a very modern crime.
Members of the audience clutched small children on their laps, cried,
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