(Photo: Reuters/Yuri Gripas)
President Barack Obama will travel to Newtown, Conn., on Sunday to speak at an interfaith vigil and also meet the families of victims of the Friday morning's school shooting that killed 12 girls, eight boys and six women, the White House said in a statement.
"Tomorrow evening the president will travel to Newtown... to meet with the families of those who were lost and thank first responders," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Saturday. "The president will also speak at an interfaith vigil for families of the victims as well as families from Sandy Hook Elementary scheduled for 7PM EST."
The announcement came hours after families claimed their lost loved ones as the bodies were identified on Saturday morning. Those killed included 12 girls and eight boys – all first-graders, six or seven years old. The six adults killed were all women, including Sandy Hook Elementary school principal Dawn Hochsprung and psychologist Mary Scherlach, who had been shot as they tried to protect their students.
The suspect, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed his mother, who worked at the school, at their home in Newtown, then stormed the school and opened fire before shooting himself on Friday morning.
Lanza, who family friends said suffered from Asperger's Syndrome, a mental disorder, sprayed the children with bullets, both from a distance and at close range, officials said Saturday. Connecticut chief medical examiner H. Wayne Carver II said all the victims had been struck more than once – some even six times. Bodies had wounds "all over, all over."
Obama's trip to Newtown comes two days after he wiped away tears while addressing the nation, saying "our hearts are broken" for the victims. "We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years," Obama said. "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent tragedies like this regardless of the politics," he added.
"I know there's not a parent in America who doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do," Obama went on to say. "The majority of those who died today were children. Beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them: birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own."
The president also canceled a planned visit to Maine where he was scheduled to deliver another campaign-style speech to press for tax hikes for the wealthiest Americans as part of the ongoing "fiscal cliff" negotiations with House Republicans.
Obama's Sunday visit to Connecticut will be his third such trip in two years. Last January, the president participated in a vigil after the mass shooting that wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.). In July, he visited families of victims of the Aurora, Colo., theater massacre.
On Friday night, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy spoke at a vigil service at the St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic church in Newton.
With the church filled to capacity, hundreds spilled outside, some of them holding hands in circles and saying prayers. Others lit prayer candles and sang "Silent Night," CBS News reported. "Many of us today and in the coming days will rely on what we have been taught and what we believe, that there is faith for a reason," Malloy said.
The parish priest, Robert Weiss, said he spent much of Friday with the families of victims but he could not give them any answers about what happened.