President Obama speaks at a memorial service for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. / MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Facing a room full of parents, siblings, classmates, and teachers of the 26 victims who died Friday in a mass shooting at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, President Obama Sunday night asked if Americans can claim as a nation that they're doing everything they can to ensure the safety and happiness of their children.
"If we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no," the president said during an interfaith vigil at Newtown High School. "We're not doing enough. And we'll have to change."
It's the strongest language to date Mr. Obama has used in reference to calls from his fellow Democrats for sweeping reforms to gun rights and, from both sides, for increased support for those suffering mental illness. The alleged shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who turned the gun on himself when approached by police after killing his mother, six faculty members, and 20 students aged six and seven, is thought to have suffered from various mental disabilities.
Vowing to flood the coming weeks with meetings with mental health professionals, parents, and others who may shed light "in an effort at preventing more tragedies like this," Mr. Obama asked, "Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine." If lawmakers have at their disposal the ability to save at least one more school, or even family, from this level of grief, he continued, "surely we have an obligation to try."
"We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true... but that's no excuse for inaction," the president said, mourning victims who "much of the time, their only fault was being tin the wrong place at the wrong time. We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end."
The vigil included interfaith scripture readings and prayers, and before the podium, which boasted the presidential seal, were glass votive candles, one for each victim in the shootings. Stuffed dogs were given to children as they entered. Gov. Dan Malloy, D-Conn., who opened for the president, ensured those in attendance, "we will get better."
Having spent two hours prior to the event meeting with victims' families and first responders, Mr. Obama said the 27,000-person Connecticut town has "inspired us - you remind us what matters." The victims, he continued, "lost their lives in a school that could have been any school, in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could have been any town."
"Newtown," he assured, "you are not alone."
Mr. Obama ended his remarks by listing the names of each individual victim, drawing sobs from throughout the crowd.
In the hours following the news of the massacre Friday, the president approached his condolences as a parent. With little mention of legislative action, he told the nation: "As a country, we have been through this too many times."
His visit to Connecticut marks his third trip to a site following a mass shooting in the past 23 months. In January 2011, Mr. Obama took part in a vigil following the mass shooting that injured Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and this past July, he met with victims' families following the massacre at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
During his remarks Friday, the president said, "I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief I do" and noted that the majority of the victims were "children, beautiful little kids... They had their entire lives ahead of them, birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."