(NEWTOWN, Conn.) — President Obama said at an interfaith prayer service in the grieving community of Newtown, Conn., Sunday evening that the country is “left with some hard questions” if it is to curb a rising trend in gun violence, such as the shooting spree last Friday at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
After consoling victims’ families in classrooms at Newtown High School, the president said he would do everything in his power to “engage” a dialogue with Americans, including law enforcement and mental health professionals, because “we can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change.”
The president was not specific about what he thought would be necessary and did not even use the word “gun” in his remarks, but his speech was widely perceived as a prelude to a call for more regulations and restrictions on the availability of firearms.
The grieving small town hosted the memorial service Sunday evening as the the nation pieces together the circumstances that led to a gunman taking 26 lives last Friday at the community’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.
“Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside your body all of the time, walking around,” Obama said, speaking of the joys and fears of raising children.
“So it comes as a shock at a certain point when you realize no matter how much you love these kids you can’t do it by yourself,” he continued. “That this job of protecting kids and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, with the help of a community, and the help of a nation.”
The president asked whether holistically, the country could ask itself whether it was doing everything it could to meet its obligations in protecting all children.
“I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days and if we’re honest with ourselves the answer is no,” he answered. “We’ve not been doing enough. And we will have to change.”
Assuming a consoling role has become all too familiar for this presidency, which has born witness to five mass killings since assuming office in 2009. It was a trend Obama acknowledged in his remarks, hinting as he has done recently that his administration may pursue strengthening gun control laws as a response.
“Are we really prepared to say that such violence brought on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” he asked.
The president’s grim, direct tone came in the latter half of his appearance in the filled auditorium, after taking the first minutes to recite scripture and remember those lost when Adam Lanza broke into the elementary school with a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns, opening fire before committing suicide.
“Scripture tells us, do not lose heart,” Obama said. “Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us eternal glory that far outweigh them all.”
Faculty, staff and some students of Newtown wore ribbons of green and white — the town and school colors — emblazoned with a small angel in the middle, in remembrance of the victims. Several first responders were also seen sporting the symbol.
“I am very mindful that mere words cannot reach the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you are not alone in your grief,” Obama continued. “That our world too has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight.”
Audible weeping broke out from children and adults alike as the president cited the names of faculty members who died in the attack, some protecting the children in their custody.
“They responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances: with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care,” he said.
The president ended his remarks in prayer.
“We pray, Lord, for all of those so torn by grief. In this moment, we are all your children. A family related by your love. Help us care for the families in sorrow. May they feel embraced by the neighborhood, town, state, nation, world,” he said. “Help us to forever remember we embrace the grieving as our own.”
The Newtown shooting is the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history. It is surpassed only by the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting with 33 shot and killed, including the shooter.
The memorial service had been delayed nearly an hour as Obama met privately with first responders and families of the victims in classrooms of the high school.
The president walked in shortly before 8 p.m., gave a brief wave to the room full of parents, friends and neighbors, before taking a seat in the first row. He was met with a standing ovation.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Dylan Byers, CNN
Dakin Andone, CNN
Azadeh Ansari and Angela Dewan, CNN