Obama Speaks To Newtown's Grieving Families

President Obama issued a challenge to the nation on gun violence Sunday night. He was speaking to grieving families of the school shooting in Newtown, Ct. And the president said when it comes to protecting children, the country isn't doing enough.

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President Obama issued a challenge to the nation last night. He said when it comes to protecting children the country is not doing enough. The president was speaking to grieving families in Newtown, Connecticut.

NPR's Robert Smith was there.

ROBERT SMITH, BYLINE: What can you possibly say to the family of a murdered child? President Obama admitted up front that his words could not do much.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I can only hope that it helps to know that you are not alone in your grief.

SMITH: And last night, they were not alone. The Newtown High School auditorium was filled with hundreds of people in mourning, relatives of the victims, friends; emergency personnel who responded to the school on Friday and saw unspeakable things. A few cried out as the president read off the names of teachers and administrators who were killed.

OBAMA: 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.

SMITH: Some of those young people were in the audience, clearly up past their bedtime, fidgeting, playing with stuffed animals. President Obama praised the bravery of those school children who calmly evacuated the school.

OBAMA: One child even - trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, I know karate.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: So its OK, I'll lead the way out.

(LAUGHTER)

SMITH: Then Mr. Obama quickly turned serious again. You learn, as a parent, he said, that we all bear the responsibility to care for each other's children.

As president, though, he's been asking himself if the country is doing enough to keep those children safe.

OBAMA: I've been reflecting on this the last few days. And if we're honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We're not doing enough and we will have to change.

SMITH: The president never mentioned the word gun, much less gun control. But in his speech, he was more pointed than he's been after previous tragedies. Mr. Obama said this was the fourth time he's traveled to comfort a city after a mass shooting. The last time was this summer after the theatre massacre in Aurora, Colorado.

OBAMA: We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.

SMITH: Sure it difficult, the president said. Yes, it is complex. And...

OBAMA: 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.

SMITH: The president vowed that he will use whatever power his office holds to prevent more tragedies like this. But he stopped he stopped short of proposing any actual policy changes. Instead, the president ended this way: He slowly read out 20 names, a list of the six and seven year olds who died at Sandy Hook Elementary. It was a devastating moment.

OBAMA: For those of us who remain, let's find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.

SMITH: When the President finished, the crowd was told to stay inside the auditorium for security reasons - at least until the president had been driven away from the site by the secret survive. It was then that all these people, who had been through so much, could finally just stand around and talk about what had happened.

Michael Oliva(ph) brought his two kids to the vigil. His young daughter had known some of the victims from her dance class.

MICHAEL OLIVA: Everyone seemed to embrace each other. It seemed to bring them together. I think a lot of people were not talking to each other much. But you see when they finally saw each other, they're finally getting together and everybody seemed to, you know, really connect more. They're not alone. You know?

SMITH: For Jean Molotta(ph), the president's visit was a sign that the rest of country was thinking about this tiny spot on the map, as she put it. And she, for one, she was ready to answer the president's call to action.

JEAN MOLOTTA: He said this has to stop and we need to take care of that. And I know, as a family, we're very concerned about the guns. We're very concerned about the violent videogames that are out there. And we just hope that he can help the nation take care of that and do something, 'cause this was horrific. And we hope it never happens to anyone else.

SMITH: Today, Newtown faces another difficult moment: The first two funerals of many to come. Noah Pozner and Jack Pinto, both age six, will be buried today.

Robert Smith, NPR News, Danbury, Connecticut.

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