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Obama at Vigil Service: America's First Job is Caring for Our Children

President Obama told vigil service attendees in Newtown on Sunday that America is not doing enough to keep its children safe.

 

"We gather here in memory of 20 beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school in any town of good and decent people. They could be any town in America. I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I'm very mindful that mere words cannot match your depths of sorrow, nor could they heal your wounded hearts....Newtown you are not alone." —President Barack Obama

It's difficult to put into words the shock, horror, and sadness that so many people feel in the wake of Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, but President Barack Obama was there on Sunday night to at least offer words of comfort. And it's certainly true that Newtown was not alone in its grief.

Scores of folks, from near and far, gathered in the center of Sandy Hook for a makeshift vigil in advance of the president's arrival on Sunday.

"I guess I'm just here to lend my support and comfort anyway I can," Camille Wallace, a Queens, NY resident who came to Connecticut for the day. "You never really know what to do in this situation. I'm trying to talk to whoever I can, pass along a hug."

Wallace was one of the many dropping flowers, hand-written messages and stuffed animals among dozens of burning candles in front of and around a giant tree decorated for Christmas.

David Fuselier, of Southbury, said he and others in the area are "heartbroken." Angela Williams, a paramedic from Philadelphia who came to show compassion for those hurting, shared that sentiment. She was there with her 3-year-old, Alex—one of many youngsters surveying the scene.

"He's asked, 'What's going on?' The best I can come up with is a bad man was hurting and he hurt others," she said. "And we're here to try and help pick up the pieces."

Signs declaring "Together We Are Strong" and "Love Will Get Us Through" were sprinkled throughout the town and village. Along Church Hill Road, where people parked their cars and walked to the memorial, balloons were tied to painted figures of angels planted in the ground.

After reading the names of the Sandy Hook victims, Obama said that "for those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory."

Obama also spoke with attendees on the importance of keeping America's children safe.

"We come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child because we count on everyone to look after ours—that we’re all parents, that they're all our children. This is our first task, caring for our children, it’s our first job. If we don’t get that right we don’t get anything right. That’s how as a society we will be judged," Obama said. "We are not doing enough and we will have to change."

Excerpts From Speeches and Prayers 

An interfaith vigil for families of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shootings, as well as families from the school, preceded the president's arrival. The vigil began at 7 p.m. with the Red Cross in attendance, handing out blankets and water and stuffed animals.

First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra, who introduced Gov. Dan Malloy, said that Newtown is a "place that loves children above all" and would "not be defined" the Sandy Hook tragedy.  

Rev. Matt Crebbin, minister of Newtown Congregational Church, opened the interfaith vigil service. He said that the clergy in attendance had chosen to sit in the audience instead of on stage because, "we wanted to have a symbolic gesture that we ourselves are with you and among you in these coming days—that we we are all together."

Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy's Speech 

"[In spring], when flowers start to come out of the ground and when they rise, I will know that we are in touch with those we have lost in the last few days. We will go on, we will find strength, faith is a gift as is our ability to support one another in our great community. To all of you, I extend my most profound condolences for what you have seen, witnessed and personally experienced. We will move on, but we will never forget..."

A prayer by Rev. Rob Mossis, vicar of Christ the King Lutheran Church:

"We bring to you 20 new stars in the heavens, 20 new saints, 20 new angels. We bring to you those who risk their lives for us everyday not counting the cost, and we bring to you those who died, those who counsel, those who bless and embrace the confused and the broken. And now in this prayer, we bring to you ourselves, our questions, our doubts, our anger and our hearts, and we pray for the peace, the hope and the renewal of trust that can come only from a God who first conceived us in love and places a hand of compassion on each of our shoulders even in the most trying times. And so tonight for our community, a community deeply pained, we ask you to heal our brokenness, to answer our questions, to replace our doubts with certainty, our anger with peace and our hurt with and healing…"

John Woodall, Ba'hai Community Leader 

"Be though not disconsolate, do not languish, do not sigh, nor wail or weep for agitation and mourning deeply affect their souls in the divine realm."

Rev. Jane Sibley of Newtown United Methodist Church offered a prayer for first responders.  

"You gave them gifts for their life to serve you. They were asked to pay a high price for all the skills that they have been given, for the strength that they have. You equipped them, you gave them a willingness to learn and train, you gave them a willingness to serve late at night when the call would come in—a willingness to respond when this town needed them the most. Lord we thank you for those that responded, for those throughout the state that came when the need was given..."

A prayer by Rev. Jim Solomon of the New Hope Community Church:

"Dear Lord, as we leave the children that we lost in your hands, we ask that by your grace you would empower us to bless and comfort the children that are still here in our hands. Please be with them in a special way as they grieve the loss of siblings and friends. Life will never be the same, yet we ask that you help these precious little ones to carry the spirits of their lost loved ones in their hearts as they go along living their lives to its fullest according to your will for each of these girls and boys."

A prayer by Mell Kawakami, senior pastor of Newtown Methodist Church:

“Each light that sits before us is a light that’s been lost to our world. So many innocents, so many brave. ... Lord all we can do is throw ourselves upon your tender mercies hoping that you hear our prayers … and so we pray for all of the souls lost and all of the families and friends torn by grief, for in this moment, we are all your children."

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