President Barack Obama is in Newtown, Conn., to address the grieving community in the wake of Friday’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 26 people, including 20 children, dead. According to White House pool reports, Obama arrived in Sandy Hook Sunday evening and has spent the past few hours thanking first responders and consoling the families of the victims. He is scheduled to deliver remarks to other families and members of the community at an interfaith vigil inside the local high school auditorium tonight.
The vigil is set to begin at 7 p.m. According to a pool report, the President is the principal author of his speech at the vigil, and worked on edits with speechwriter Cody Keenan while on the flight to Newtown today.
Other remarks will be delivered by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy and Patricia Llodra, the first selectwoman of Newtown. The audience includes Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators Joe Lieberman and Richard Blumenthal, Congressman Chris Murphy, whose district includes Newtown, as well as Congresswoman-elect Elizabeth Esty, who will succeed Murphy next year, and Connecticut’s U.S. Reps. Jim Himes, John Larson, and Rosa DeLauro.
“This one, it haunts me,” Lieberman told reporters after passing through the metal detectors on the way into the high school.
We will be updating below once the vigil begins:
UPDATE, 7:30 p.m.:
First responders were just greeted with a moving standing ovation when they entered the auditorium. Here’s a picture:
UPDATE, 7:38 p.m.:
Newtown First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra estimates that 15 victims’ families met with the president, according to a White House pool report.
UPDATE, 7:49 p.m.:
Obama entered the auditorium wearing a black suit with a black tie, and sat down next to Gov. Malloy. The vigil began immediately after he was seated.
UPDATE, 8:10 p.m.:
Cristina Hassinger, the daughter of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochspring, tweets the photo below, with the caption: “My mum would be SO proud to see President Obama holding her granddaughter. But not as proud as I am of her.” Hochspring was one of the victims of Friday’s shooting.
Here’s the photo:
Newtown’s first selectwoman Patricia Llodra has taken the stage to introduce Malloy.
“It is a defining moment for all of us, but it does not define us,” Llodra said, tearing up.
UPDATE, 8:35 p.m.:
Obama has taken the stage in Newtown. According to a White House pool report, he carried his speech in a black folder and delivered his remarks without a teleprompter.
“Scripture tells us, do not lose heart, for outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day,” he began. “Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayer of a nation.”
“It could have been any school. It could have been any town in America,” he said. “All across this land of ours, we have wept with you.
“Newtown, you are not alone.”
Recounting anecdotes of the heroism at Sandy Hook on Friday, Obama then described a scene of children helping each other, and one kid encouraging a teacher: “It’s OK — I know karate, so I’ll lead the way out.”
“Newtown, you have inspired us.”
“But we as a nation are left with some hard questions,” he continued.
“Every parent knows there’s nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm…but we can’t always be there for them,” Obama said. “This job of keeping our kids safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together.”
“We’re all parents,” he said. “They’re all our children. This is our first task–caring for our children…This is how we’ll be judged.”
“By that measure, can we truly say as a nation that we’re meeting our obligations?”
“If we’re honest with ourselves the answer is no. We’re not doing enough, and we’ll have to change.”
Noting that this is the fourth time as President he has had to address a greiving community in the wake of a mass shooting, Obama continued:
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. Thes tragedies must end. And to end them we must change.”
“In the coming weeks I will use whatever powers this office holds…in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this,” Obama added, although he did not elaborate on what that effort might entail.
“No single law or set of laws can eliminate evil from the world,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”
“Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard?” he asked.
UPDATE, 8:54 p.m.:
Obama ended his speech by reading off the names of the victims: “God has called them all home.”
As he did so, the sounds of the sobbing in the auditorium are audible even on the television broadcast.
“Let us find the strength to carry on and make the country worthy of their memory,” he concluded.
The speech was about 18 minutes.