UPDATE 10am: US President Barack Obama has vowed to use all his power to make sure that shooting tragedies like the one that left 20 small children and six adults dead are not repeated.
“We can’t accept events like this as routine,” Obama told a poignant multi-faith vigil in Newtown, Connecticut today. “We as a nation are left with some hard questions. These tragedies have to end, and to end them we must change.”
An impassioned Obama offered the “love and prayers of a nation“ to families of the victims, saying all Americans stood by their side in mourning the tragic loss.
“I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world, too, has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you,” Obama said. “We’ve pulled our children tight, and you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide.
"Whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it.
“Newtown, you are not alone.”
Earlier, officials formally identified Adam Lanza, 20, as the shooter who ran amok in the picture postcard town on Friday, confirming that he shot his mother several times in the head at the house they shared before going to his old school and embarking on the killing spree.
His child victims were just six and seven years old, a loss of innocence Obama blamed on an “unconscionable evil”.
“In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other,” Obama said.
Lanza used his mother’s bushmaster .223 assault rifle to kill 26 people at the school, including 20 children aged either six or seven, before taking his own life with a handgun as police officers closed in.
The president made an urgent call for Americans to do more to prevent a repeat of the countless shooting tragedies that have scarred the nation.
“Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings ... and in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country,” he said.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”
“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.
Obama acknowledged that “no single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” but indicated that he would seek action.
“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage?” he asked. “That the politics are too hard. Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?“
As Obama left Washington for heartbroken Newtown, there was growing talk that perhaps America had reached a tipping point of revulsion that would force at least some kind of action to curb its stubborn addiction to guns.
A prominent Democratic lawmaker, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, promised to introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the very first day of the next Congress, January 3.
It was this type of weapon that was used in Friday's massacre in a small town now doomed to suffer a recurring nightmare for a long time to come.
Nerves remained on edge. One Catholic church where people attended services on Sunday, Saint Rose of Lima, was evacuated due to an undisclosed threat. Armed police searched a house next door.
In ways big and small, tributes were paid -- from candles lit and teddy bears left at the elementary school crime scene, to gestures at the cavernous football stadiums that usually fixate Americans’ attention on Sundays.
Before the day’s games, the National Football League had teams observe a minute’s silence in memory of 20 six- and seven-year-olds and seven adults killed by a reportedly disturbed young man who apparently took his own life.
Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy revealed that Lanza blasted his way into the school, which had just installed a new security door where visitors could be viewed by video camera and buzzed in.
“He shot his way into the building. He penetrated the building by literally shooting an entrance into the building. That’s what an assault weapon can do for you,” Mr Malloy said on CNN.
The tragedy revived calls for stricter laws on gun ownership, particularly regarding military-style rifles, which fire bullets designed to tear a target apart, but are marketed as regular hunting weapons.
“There will be a bill,” insisted Senator Feinstein, a longtime gun-control advocate, referring to legislation banning assault weapons.
“It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation, and the possession. Not retroactively, but prospectively. It will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets,” she told NBC television.
Many states, including Connecticut, already have strict laws on the purchase of firearms, but with no federal statutes, there is little to stop the traffic of guns from other states where fewer restrictions apply.
An assault weapon ban was passed in 1994 under Bill Clinton but it expired in 2004 and was never resurrected. Obama supported restoring the law while running for president in 2008 but did not make it a priority during his first term.