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President Obama speaks to grieving town of Newtown

Residents in Newtown, Connecticut have gathered for a prayer vigil following Friday's school shooting that killed 20 students and 6 staff members. In a speech, President Obama called for an end to shooting tragedies.

epa03511978 US President Barack Obama reflects during an interfaith vigil for families of the victims as well as families from Sandy Hook Elementary School at Newtown High School, Newtown, Connecticut, USA, 16 December 2012. Twenty six people were shot dead, including twenty children, after a gunman identified as Adam Lanza opened fire in the school on 14 December. EPA/OLIVIER DOULIERY / POOL +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Barack Obama Besuch Newtown nach Amoklauf

Religious leaders of several faiths represented in the community of Newtown led prayers during Sunday's vigil, which was held in the auditorium of Newtown High School.

Watch video 00:37

Obama speaks at Newtown vigil

The prayers led up to the speech by President Barack Obama, who spent the hours before the vigil meeting with the families of the victims.

Obama started by giving Newtown the assurance that the entire nation joined them in grieving over the tragedy.

"Our world, too, has been torn apart," he said.

The president shared the stories of heroism and compassion by the teachers and staff of the Sandy Hook Elementary School, some who gave their lives to protect the children, and others who barricaded classrooms and consoled their young students until police arrived on the scene. He read the names of the adults killed in the shooting.

President vows action

Friday's shooting, carried out by a lone gunman who took his own life after gunning down 20 first graders and six teachers and staff at the school, inevitably rekindled the debate of gun control in the United States.

Although Obama made no direct mention of the issue, his vow to try and prevent such tragedies in the future was an unmistakable reference to attempting to change gun control legislation.

"We can't accept events like this as routine," Obama said, referring to the fact that the Newtown shooting is the fourth major shooting incident to occur during his time in office.

"We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true," the president said. "No single law or 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. Surely we can do better than this."

"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."

The right to bear arms is part of the American constitution, a fact that Obama indirectly referenced in his speech.

"Are we prepared to say that the violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?" he said.

Obama concluded his speech by reading the names of the 20 children killed in the attack.

Long investigation

Earlier on Sunday, more details emerged of Friday's shooting. Speaking on ABC television, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said the gunman had shot his way through a locked door to enter the school.

Connecticut state police Lieutenant Paul Vance said that the investigation into exactly what happened and why would take weeks to complete, as an "immense number of witnesses" needed to be interviewed.

He also said that a great deal of evidence had been gathered at a second crime scene where the shooter first killed his mother at the home they shared before taking an assault rifle to the school.

mz/jlw (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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