President Obama was greeted with a standing ovation tonight as he entered, grim-faced, the Newtown High School auditorium for an interfaith service for the victims of the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
The memorial service had been delayed nearly an hour as Obama met with families of the victims -- 20 first graders and six adults -- in classrooms of the high school, but the audience sat patiently awaiting the service.
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.
"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," said Rev. Matt Crebbin, senior minister of the Newtown Congregational Church, who opened the ceremony.
"We gather in such a moment of heartbreak for all of us in Newtown," he said. "We gather esp mindful of family and friends and neighbors among us who have lost loved ones by an act of unfathomable violence and destruction.
"These darkest days of our community shall not be the final word heard from us," he said
Tragedy struck the small town Friday when Adam Lanza broke into the elementary school with a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns, and then killed 20 first graders and six school staff members before committing suicide as police arrived on the scene.
The audience showed no signs of impatience, despite the delayed start. They sat quietly until a group of state police arrived at the already packed high school auditorium, but then stood to give the police a standing ovation and hugs.
A short time later more police arrived, and were also greeted with applause and hugs.
Assuming a consoling role that has become all too familiar for this presidency, Obama will also privately meet with some of the families affected by the tragic shooting, as well as local first responders.
The president has witnessed five mass shootings since assuming office in 2009, his reaction to this most recent tragedy in New England being his most publicly emotional. On Friday, tears collected in his eyes as he addressed the nation after the tragedy.
"The majority of those who died today were children, beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," the president said, pausing to collect himself. "They had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."
But the president has also been more directly political in the immediate aftermath of these killings, as national discussions simmer over how to move forward and what, if any, policy is needed to prevent future violence. The president said it was time for "meaningful action" to prevent such tragedies, "regardless of the politics."
"We have been through this too many times, whether it's an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or a temple in Wisconsin or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago," he said of the other mass shootings in the past year alone. "These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children."
It is a subtle but noticeable shift for Obama, who has not actively pursued stricter gun control during his four years in office despite pledges to do so during his 2008 candidacy. Although the White House says it needs support from Congress to move forward with strong legislation, it is also known that many politicians shied away to such reforms during the 2012 campaign season out of fear of alienating potential voters.
In reality the Obama administration has loosened federal restrictions on Second Amendment rights in some areas, including possession in national parks and on Amtrak. But during the second presidential debate in October the president signaled that he is ready to take new action on gun control, including reintroduction of the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.
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