‘We have wept with you,’ says Obama during Newtown vigil
Published Sunday, December 16, 2012 10:47AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, December 16, 2012 9:56PM EST
U.S. President Barack Obama addressed mourners at a vigil in Newtown, Conn., Sunday evening, telling the grief-stricken community that he came offering “the love and prayers of a nation,” but also that “these tragedies must end.”
The president said he recognized that no words can alleviate the grief the families of the victims feel.
“I can only hope that it helps for you to know that you are not alone in your grief, that our world too has been torn apart. That all across this land, we have wept with you, we have pulled our children tight,” he said.
He praised residents for their actions during the shooting and in the days that followed but said that as the grieving process continues, “we as a nation, we are left with some hard questions.”
Obama spoke at an interfaith vigil for the 26 victims of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning.
The president spoke of the importance of parenthood and said that every parent’s first job is to protect their children. And the first job as a nation, he added, was to ensure the safety of all children. He then questioned whether the country was succeeding on that front.
“Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough, to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we 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?” he asked. “I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and the answer is no.”
During his remarks, Obama noted that this was the fourth mass shooting that’s occurred since he became president in 2008 and said the country could no longer tolerate such tragedies.
“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 upon our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” he said.
The president also read the names of each of the victims. Twenty of the victims were small children and six were school staff members.
Before attending the vigil, the president met privately with some of the families of the victims as well as some of the first responders who attended the school on the morning of the shooting.
Obama was introduced by Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy.
During his address, Malloy expressed his “profound condolences” and told the community to stay strong.
“We will go on, we will find strength,” Malloy said. “Faith is a gift, as is our ability to support one another in our greater community. We will move on, we will never forget, we will in many ways get stronger for what has transpired, and we will get better.”
The service was opened by Rev. Matt Crebbin, the senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church, who urged the community to stand united as they grieve.
“We needed this, we needed to be together, here in this room, in the gymnasium, outside the doors of this school, in living rooms around the world. We needed to be together to show that we are together and united,” he said.
He then led the mourners through a prayer.
Religious leaders from other faiths then took turns to address the mourners.
Together the group was led through prayers by Rabbi Shaul Praver, Rev. Mel Kawakami and Kathie Adams-Shepherd, the rector of the Trinity Episcopal Church.
The mourners sat in silence as they were led through an Islamic prayer, as well as a special prayer for first responders by Rev. Jane Sibley.
John Woodall, a Bahá'í community leader, also spoke to the group.
After the religious leaders spoke, the town’s First Selectman addressed the mourners.
Patricia Llodra said that the town would move beyond the tragedy in due time.
“There is no blame to be laid on us, but there is a great burden and great challenge that we emerge whole,” said Llodra. “I know that Newtown will prevail.”
Police release more details
The vigil comes after authorities released more details about the shooting and the gunman.
Earlier Sunday, Connecticut state police said they found multiple 30-round magazines and hundreds of bullets at the school where a gunman opened fire and killed 26 people.
During a press conference Sunday afternoon, Lt. Paul Vance told reporters that the gunman in the horrific attack was Adam Lanza, 20. Media reports had identified Lanza as the gunman early in the investigation.
Vance said the weapon that was primarily used by the gunman in the massive shooting was a Bushmaster AR-15. He said that Lanza had two handguns with him as well, a Glock 10 mm and a Sig Sauer 9 mm. A shotgun had also been found in the car Lanza had used to drive to the school.
Vance said Lanza used a handgun to take his own life.
It was also confirmed Sunday that Lanza shot his mother four times in the head before heading to the school. Vance could not say what weapon Lanza used to kill his mother.
The details released by police suggest that Lanza had planned for an even greater death toll, but was stopped short as first responders closed in on the school.
Vance also confirmed that “there was in fact a threat” at the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church on Sunday, which led authorities to evacuate the church.
Vigils for the slain have been held at the church.
“Everything is taken extremely seriously. The church was evacuated as a precaution. It was thoroughly searched, as was the rectory, and we have initiated a criminal investigation working with Newtown police in this particular incident,” he said.
Timeline of Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting
Authorities have begun to piece together the sequence of events that took place on Friday in Newtown.
- Adam Lanza shoots his mother four times in the head at their home, located at 36 Yogananda St., before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School.
- At around 9:30 a.m. Lanza blasts his way into the school and, using a high-powered rifle, opens fire inside two classrooms, killing 20 children and six adults. Among the dead is the school principal who tried to stop him.
- As first responders entered the building, Lanza shoots and kills himself. Children, teachers and staff are evacuated to an off-site location.
Authorities said they found a significant amount of ammunition on the assailant, enough to carry out additional carnage.
“There was a lot of ammo, a lot of clips,” Vance said earlier Sunday. “Certainly a lot of lives were potentially saved.”
As the investigation continues, federal agents fanned out to gun stores and shooting ranges across the state, chasing any leads that might cast light on Lanza’s life and how the massacre happened.
Police warn of misinformation
Earlier on Sunday, police officially put the public on notice: those spreading misinformation about the incident online could be breaking the law.
"Suffice it to say that the information has in fact been deemed as threatening, it's been inaccurate, it's been people posing as other people and, in discussing with federal authorities, they believe it's a violation of state and or federal law, Vance told reporters.
Vance acknowledged the intense interest in the police investigation. But, he said, it's important that investigators assemble a complete and accurate picture of what transpired before making that information public.
"We can't take segments of an investigation and discuss it publicly, because something taken out of context could be misinterpreted, and not factual once it's misinterpreted," he said.
Vance said that investigators are now analyzing four firearms in connection with the deadly shooting, in an effort to trace their origins.
"A great deal of work must be done on those weapons," he said, cautioning that it could be weeks before the results of that probe are complete.
Similarly, he said it could take some time for the forensic examination of the school, as well as interviews with victims, witnesses and others.
In the meantime, Newtown police Lt. George Sinko said authorities are working to keep the Sandy Hook students together.
Sinko said that education officials will decide when the students will return to classes.
"It's too early to say, but I would find it very difficult for them to do that," he said.
Relatives of Nancy Lanza, who was fatally shot before her son headed to the school, released a statement late Saturday night, saying they share the grief of the Newtown community and the nation. But the family would not speculate on what might have triggered the shootings.
However, Vance said investigators had found "very good evidence ... that our investigators will be able to use in painting the complete picture, the how and, more importantly, the why."
Police released the names of the victims late Saturday afternoon, after using photos to help parents through the ordeal of identifying the dead.
What we know about the Connecticut shootings:
The toll: In total 28 people died. The victims include 20 students, six school staff members, the gunman’s mother and the gunman.
The child victims at the school: Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine F. Hsu, 6, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6 and Allison N. Wyatt, 6.
The adult victims at the school: Rachel Davino, 29, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Russeau, 29, Mary Sherlach, 56 and Victoria Soto, 27.
The suspect: Although authorities have named 20-year-old Adam Lanza as the gunman. Former classmates remember Lanza as a quiet, smart student though a bit of a loner.
One law enforcement official said Lanza may have had a personality disorder; another said he had been diagnosed with Asperger's, a mild form of autism.
He came from a wealthy area and his parents divorced in 2008.
The suspect’s family: Friends and neighbours describe Lanza’s mother, Nancy, 52, as well-liked and a nurturing parent. Those close to her say that she often hosted dice games at her home. She was divorced from her husband, Peter Lanza in 2008. Friends say she was a gun enthusiast who went target shooting with her children. She owned four legally registered guns.
Lanza’s father, Peter Lanza, is a tax director at General Electric who lives in Stamford, Connecticut. He released a statement Saturday indicating he is struggling to understand the shooting.
"Our family is grieving along with all those who have been affected by this enormous tragedy. No words can truly express how heartbroken we are," Lanza said. "We are in a state of disbelief and trying to find whatever answers we can. We too are asking why. ... Like so many of you, we are saddened, but struggling to make sense of what has transpired."
Lanza’s older brother, Ryan Lanza, 24, lives in New Jersey and works in Manhattan. Following the shooting Ryan was initially identified as the suspect and was questioned by police. It was later clarified that he is not a suspect.
The town: Newtown, Conn., is a 300-year-old picturesque New England town of 27,000. It is located in one of the wealthiest counties in the country. Friday’s shooting, the second-deadliest mass school shooting in the country’s history, has traumatized this quiet community. There has only been one murder in Newtown in the last 10 years.