, NEWTOWN, Connecticut, Dec 16 – President Barack Obama was due in the small Connecticut community of Newtown on Sunday to join in an interfaith vigil for the 20 small children and seven adults slaughtered by a young gunman.
The president’s visit comes two days after the heavily armed 20-year-old, Adam Lanza, stalked into the Sandy Hook elementary school and raked students, teachers and administrators with gunfire, after first killing his mother in their home – in one of the worst mass shootings in US history.
The tragedy has revived calls for a debate on gun control, though the White House has scotched any suggestion that the politically explosive subject would be quickly reopened.
And the political ramifications were far from the minds of most in this picturesque dormitory town, where parents of both the survivors and the dead were struggling to come to terms with the horror.
The White House said the president will meet with families of the victims and thank first responders. He is also scheduled to speak at the vigil on Sunday evening for the families of victims and others from the elementary school.
A memorial was held on Saturday evening for one of the victims, 27-year-old teacher Victoria Soto, who died trying to protect her students, according to media reports.
Robbie Parker, a 30-year-old hospital physician’s assistant who cares for sick newborns, said the death of his loving six-year-old Emilie should “inspire us to be better, more compassionate and caring toward other people.”
And he included the family of the apparent shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, in his condolences, addressing them through the news media to say: “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you.”
Robert and Diane Licata described how their six-year-old son Aiden ran past the shooter in his classroom doorway to escape after seeing his teacher gunned down – and recounted their desperate search for him.
“When you’re standing there waiting, and no one will tell you anything. It’s an indescribable feeling of helplessness.”
Licata eventually received a text that her son was safe at a nearby police station, and he was later able to explain his escape.
She said his class heard noises that initially “they thought were hammers falling. Then they realized that it was gunshots,” she said.
“Aiden’s teacher had the presence of mind to move all of the children to a distance away from the door… and that’s when the gunman burst in,” Licata said.
The gunman had “no facial expressions” she said, adding that he “proceeded to shoot their teacher.”