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Obama promises Newtown, Conn., he'll do more to protect children

The Newtown, Conn., school massacre prompts Obama to pledge to use the power of his office to prevent such tragedies.

December 17, 2012|By Tina Susman, Brian Bennett and Joe Mozingo, Los Angeles Times
  • A couple grieves at a memorial for those killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
A couple grieves at a memorial for those killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Before a town devastated by a rampage against its children, and a nation wondering how it could happen again, President Obama vowed to use the power of his office to prevent such calamities and fulfill what he called America's foremost obligation.

"Can we honestly say that we're doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?" Obama asked. "I have been reflecting on this in the past few days, and if we are honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We are not doing enough and we will have to change."

His remarks departed from similar speeches after other mass shootings, when he made vague calls for conversation but did not promise action. Though he made no specific policy proposals Sunday, his statements strongly signaled a political battle to come over gun control.

TRANSCRIPT AND VIDEO: Obama's full speech

"In the coming weeks I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine.

"Are we really prepared to say we are powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?"

Obama's speech Sunday evening capped a cold, rainy day in Newtown that seemed to augur the toll setting in from Friday's shooting. Residents huddled together in their homes, sought solace in churches and set up makeshift memorials for the 20 first-graders and six staff members killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Funerals were set to begin Monday.

"Everyone is trying to sit together and support each other right now," said Kalianna Faust, 16, a student serving coffee at Caraluzzi's grocery store. Between shifts, Faust had been obsessively scrolling through her friends' Twitter and Facebook accounts, reading tributes and gazing forlornly at photographs of the dead children. Her 15-year-old sister, Monica, spent the weekend holed up in sorrow in her bedroom. Kalianna ventured out only on Saturday to light candles at the St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church.

"We just hold each other and watch the news," she said.

FULL COVERAGE: Shooting at Connecticut school

Many turned to St. Rose for comfort. Even the normally sparse 7:30 a.m. Mass was filled to capacity Sunday. The vaulted red-brick church, set behind stately trees, lost eight young members Friday and has eight funerals to prepare.

People came to find a shred of peace, to memorialize angels that so recently sat and fidgeted among them in the pews. But they met only new despair. During the noon Mass, Msgr. Robert Weiss abruptly interrupted the sermon to evacuate the building; a threat had been called into the church's offices.

"It was a menacing call that threatened to disrupt the Mass in a violent way," said a stoic Brian Wallace, spokesman for the diocese, standing in front of the church.

Filing out, people were "distressed" and "very sad," he said. "There was some anger. But no panic. We have seen incredible dignity in the faces of these people."

Police searched the premises and determined there was no danger, but the day's events were canceled.

"I don't think anyone can be surprised about anything after what has happened," Wallace said.

Authorities continued Sunday to release details about the shooting, but nothing to answer why it happened.

The gunman, Adam Lanza, 20, carried hundreds of bullets when he shot his way into the school and fired a Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle at the children and adults, Connecticut State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance said Sunday. Lanza then shot himself in the head with a Glock 10-millimeter handgun.

"The Bushmaster was used in the school, in its entirety," Vance said.

WHO THEY WERE: Shooting victims

Lanza carried multiple, high-capacity magazines for the rifle, each with 30 rounds, and multiple magazines for both handguns, with "hundreds of bullets," Vance said. He was also armed with a Sig Sauer pistol. A shotgun, the type of which was not identified, was found in the trunk of his car outside the school.

Before going to the school, Lanza shot his mother in the head multiple times, Vance said. Authorities did not say what type of gun he used on Nancy Lanza, 52.

The fact that a type of assault weapon — federally banned until 2004 — was used to kill 6- and 7-year-old children, renewed debate on gun control in Connecticut and Washington.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) pledged Sunday that she would introduce new gun-control legislation at the beginning of next year's congressional session.

Feinstein, a leading figure in the passage of a 1994 bill that banned assault weapons, said her legislation would be a renewed version of the original to get "weapons of war off the streets of our cities."

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