President Obama offered “the love and prayers of a nation” as he led the collective mourning of the 27 innocent Americans who died in the close-knit community of Newtown, Connecticut.
“Newtown, you are not alone,” the president said before a heartbroken community inside a packed high school auditorium Sunday. At times, there was audible sobbing over his words.
In a forceful call to action, President Obama suggested he would lead a political effort to end the shootings that have targeted American youth in cities and towns across the nation. “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change,” he said. “We are not doing enough and we will have to change.”
Civic and church leaders joined the president in an interfaith vigil after a mass murder that has shocked the nation and the world. According to authorities, 20-year-old Adam Lanza deliberately killed 20 children—none older than age 7—and seven adults including his own mother, before taking his own life Friday morning.
After one of the bloodiest years in the nation’s history, including mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Portland, Oregon, lawmakers have begun to talk about the tragedy as a “tipping point” for gun control legislation. While President Obama did not mention the word “gun” in his speech on Sunday night, it was clear that he had grown increasingly determined to take legislative steps since his initial call for “meaningful action” on Friday.
“We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this,” he said.
The president met privately with family members of the victims prior to the event. Details of his conversations were not released.
Around 900 people attended the interfaith vigil, with hundreds more spilling over into the Newtown High School gym, according to NBC News.
Sunday marks the fourth time in his first term that Obama has visited the grieving families and communities in the aftermath of a mass shooting. Just a few months ago, Obama met with the victims and families in Aurora, Colorado, after a lone gunman opened fire on a crowded movie theater, killing 12 and wounding another 70.
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” Obama said on Sunday.
Obama finished his speech by calling out the first names of the 26 children and educators who will never return home again.
“Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” Obama said. “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough, and we will have to change.”