NEWTOWN, Conn. - US President Barack Obama on Sunday consoled the Connecticut town shattered by the massacre of 20 young schoolchildren, lauding residents' courage in the face of tragedy and saying the United States was not doing enough to protect its children.
"Surely we can do better than this," Obama told a packed high school auditorium.
The emotional prayer vigil capped a day when worshippers sought solace in churches to mourn the victims of Friday's slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman used a military-style assault rifle to kill six adults and 20 first-graders before committing suicide.
"We can't tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them we must change," Obama said at the somber interfaith service.
"In the coming weeks I'll 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," he said. "Because what choice do we have? We can't accept events like this as routine."
Members of the audience wept when the president read the names of the 20 children and six adults who were shot at Sandy Hook Elementary school on Friday.
All the dead children were either 6 or 7 years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the United States.
"Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of the nation," Obama said. "I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts."
"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," Obama said.
Parents and children filled the Newtown High School auditorium for the evening vigil. Some of the children clutched stuffed animals and Red Cross blankets issued to ward off the cold.
"I think it's a good thing. I think it'll help this town begin to heal," Curt Brantl, 47, said of Obama's visit before the president spoke.
"It's a sign of hope that the leader of our country comes here and shows support," said Brantl, whose daughter, Tess, 9, was at Sandy Hook during the shooting. "We're turning the corner, and there's a lot of hope now."
A more detailed picture of Adam Lanza's stunning attack emerged on Sunday. Police said the shooter was armed with hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines of about 30 rounds each for the Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns he carried into the school, and had a fourth weapon, a shotgun, in his car outside.
While townspeople grieved, investigators examined forensic evidence and scoured the crime scene in a process likely to extend for weeks.
Some of the bodies have been turned over to families, state police Lieutenant Paul Vance said.
"We have the best of the best working on this case. ... Our goal is to paint a complete picture so that we all know and the public knows exactly what happened here," Vance said.
Painting part of that picture, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said the gunman shot his way through a school door "using several rounds" before beginning to kill adults and children inside, then killed himself as police closed in.
"He discharged to make an opening and then went through it, went to the first classroom ... went to the second classroom. We surmise that it was during the second classroom episode that he heard responders coming and apparently at that, decided to take his own life," Malloy said on the ABC show "This Week."