A gunman's brutal act in Newtown shattered a sunny December morning, forever changing the lives of many Connecticut families and inducing an international avalanche of horrified grief, anger and compassion.
Twenty of the victims were children, most of them believed to be in one kindergarten class. Even the simplest statement — "Children were among the dead" — had the deep power to anguish people around the country, and around the world.
President Obama grew uncharacteristically tearful as he spoke of the victims, including "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" and "teachers — men and women who devoted their lives to help their children achieve their dreams." He spoke, too, of the surviving children, whose innocence had been torn away.
As a mark of respect for those who lost their lives, Obama ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half-staff on public grounds through Tuesday and canceled a trip planned next week to Portland, Maine.
For Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the massacre — one of the worst mass shootings in the United States in decades — was "a tragedy of unspeakable terms. ... You can never be prepared for this kind of incident."
"Evil visited this community today," he said, "and it's too early to speak of recovery. But each parent, each sibling, each member of the family, has to understand that Connecticut — we're all in this together."
Republican House Speaker John Boehner also spoke of "evil."
"The horror of this day seems so unbearable," he said, "but we will lock arms and unite as citizens, for that is how Americans rise above unspeakable evil."
The shootings in Newtown reopened wounds from other moments of terror — Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, Toulouse. And they came just days after another young gunman, across the country, inexplicably opened fire on holiday shoppers at a suburban Oregon mall.
Obama's call to "come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," drew numerous, more forceful calls for immediate action on gun control, including those from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who co-chair Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
"With all the carnage from gun violence in our country, it's still almost impossible to believe that a mass shooting in a kindergarten class could happen," Bloomberg said in a statement. "It has come to that. Not even kindergartners learning their ABCs are safe. We heard after Columbine that it was too soon to talk about gun laws. We heard it after Virginia Tech. After Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek. And now we are hearing it again. ... This is a national tragedy and it demands a national response. "
Through the day Friday, as the number of the dead kept rising, the photos of terrified children, the eerily calm accounts from young eyewitnesses and the frantic desperation of fearful parents gripped millions of readers and viewers across the country and world.
The tragedy was front-page news on newspaper websites around the world. So were images of the usually cool Obama wiping away tears and trying to keep his composure.
Queen Elizabeth sent a message to the president, saying that she was "deeply shocked and saddened" by "the dreadful loss of life."
"The thoughts and prayers of everyone in the United Kingdom and throughout the Commonwealth are with the families and friends of those killed and with all those who have been affected by today's events."
In France, memories of the March shootings at a school in Toulouse that claimed the lives of a rabbi and three young children are still raw.
French President Francois Hollande wrote an open letter to Obama, saying he was "horrified."
"In these tragic circumstances, I want to express my deep shock and sorrow at this act of unspeakable violence at an elementary school that left so many victims," Hollande said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "shocked and deeply saddened to hear about today's horrific shooting."
In a statement Cameron added: "My thoughts are with the injured and those who have lost loved ones. It is heartbreaking to think of those who have had their children robbed from them at such a young age, when they had so much life ahead of them."
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: "Australia grieves with America today. ... Like President Obama and his fellow Americans, our hearts too are broken. We share America's shock at this senseless and incomprehensible act of evil."
In Mexico City, El Universal featured a story about Mexico's president, Enrique Pena Nieto, who spoke of his sorrow and his solidarity with the U.S. people.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun