NEWTOWN -- The wounds still raw from 27 dead women and children -- the worst grade-school shooting in U.S. history -- President Barack Obama paid his respects Sunday night to the families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre.
Then he put Congress on notice about toughening gun laws in the wake of the fourth mass shooting during his tenure.
"We can't tolerate this anymore," Obama said in the Newtown High School auditorium. "These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. Are we really prepared to say we're powerless in the face of such carnage?"
Obama spent more than an hour with the families and local first responders at Newtown High. And then, the president shifted seamlessly from grief counselor to chief executive and back again.
In every way, Obama told them, the families of these victims were not alone at this interfaith service.
The room -- and the world -- was filled with heavy hearts over this senseless loss of life at Sandy Hook School. The shooter also killed his mother.
"We're all parents and they're all our children," said Obama, who took the stage at 8:37 p.m. "This is our first task, caring for children. By that measure, can we truly say as a nation that we're meeting that obligation? I've been reflecting on this the last few days and the answer is, no."
As the president spoke each Sandy Hook School staffer's name here, the sobs in the auditorium were audible.
It was even worse when he read the first names of all the little children.
"Oh, God," murmured a man next the media. His wife buried her face in her hands. A spasm hit the audience. Heads bobbed, shoulders
shook. When he reached the last name, his audience was reaching to seat mates, touching them.
Bob Gibbons, whose wife teaches at Sandy Hook Elementary School and survived the shooting Friday, said he was glad the town had a chance to grieve and get together.
"For everybody else in town, it's been hard to connect with each other and this was good for the kids, it was good for the teachers, it was good for everybody," Gibbons said.
Gibbons also said he appreciated Obama's message of stricter gun laws: "I think it's time. If this doesn't get people making a change, I don't know what will."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy introduced Obama, recounting that Friday's shooting was the toughest in Obama's presidency.
"Each time the day gets a little bit longer, I will think about the lives that might have been and the lives that were full of grace," Malloy said.
Many of those in the school's auditorium were young children who survived the shooting, including Peter Horan.
The 7-year-old was in music class when Adam Lanza barged into the school and unleashed a barrage of bullets that killed 20 children and six adults who worked at the school.
"He didn't close his eyes," said Tom Horan, Peter's father. "He kept telling us about the bodies, and asking whether their bodies were going to be there Monday."
Horan, an occupational therapist, was in Waterbury when he learned of the attack.
"If the gunman had gone down the other hallway, (Peter's) would have been the first classroom," he said.
The second-grader went to grief counseling sessions over the weekend and has been sleeping with his parents.
"He's not the same," his father said. "But at least we have him."
Members of the state's congressional delegation briefly met with Obama before the vigil. While waiting for the president to conclude his visits with the victims' families, the group talked about a legislative response to the shooting.
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said a memorial resolution by Congress is only a start. There must be, at a minimum, a new effort to
restrict the ownership of high-capacity magazines.
"I think there is an infusion of energy, at least among the seven of us," Himes said, referring to the state delegation.
"I think we're at a turning point, a tipping point," said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who was the state attorney general and U.S. attorney in Connecticut before his election to the Senate in 2010.
A line of people a quarter-mile long waited in a cold mist to go through metal detectors to get into the memorial service.
Many were turned away, as there were only 800 seats to accommodate the overflow crowd.
Those who stuck it out were given fleece blankets by volunteers from the American Red Cross, which presented many children with stuffed toy dogs.
Derek and Tricia Bobowick sat on the aisle of the auditorium with their son, D.J., 9, who was in music class at Sandy Hook Elementary School when the violence erupted.
"The longest car ride of my life," Tricia Bobowick said of her frantic trip to be reunited with her son at the Sandy Hook firehouse.
The couple said they were still processing the tragedy -- just like their son.
"He loved that school," the boy's mother said.
Amy Martin, 17, waited in line with her family for about two hours to get into the memorial service. The Newtown High School senior passed out decals printed with the words, "Sandy Hook 12-14-12," and a child's palm print.
Amy is selling the decals to help the victims of the shooting. Her next-door neighbor has a grandchild who lost 12 friends in the massacre.
"Obviously, because it's such a small community, everyone knows everyone," Amy said.
Newtown First Selectman Pat Llodra introduced the governor at the memorial service.
"Newtown is the place that loves children," said Llodra, who vowed that the community would overcome the tragedy. "It is the angry and desperate act of a confused man. I know that Newtown will prevail, that we will not fall to violence."
Obama said Newtown showed bravery and resilience during its darkest hours.
The president spoke of the child who tried to reassure his teacher by saying he knew karate and he would lead the way to safety.
"This is how Newtown will be remembered," Obama said. "With time and God's grace, that love will see you through."
An unexpected coda to the emotional night came long after the crowd left. A choir of 11 sang in the foyer of the high school for an audience of police officers gathered to debrief before going off duty.
The choir, called NAPS, was from Huntsville, Ala. They wanted to console.
"We drove all night," said Ezrica Bennett, 21, who led the group.
They wanted to somehow comfort the families, who were out of reach. So they sang for cops.
They sang in a foreign tongue, an African song in the Tonga language, Bennett said.
The cops stood mute, then they all applauded. Bennett explained the song was one they sang on missions.
"It says we all have been called to do good works," she said.
From staff and press pool reports