NEWTOWN, Conn. – More than 1,000 people turned out at Newtown High School on Sunday night where President Obama met with the families of the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting, as well as the first responders to the tragedy.
State troopers escorted family members of the teachers and students who were killed Friday, some of them holding the troopers’ hands, into the auditorium of the school, where Obama began meeting with them at about 5:20 p.m. An interfaith service was scheduled for later in the evening.
Although the high school auditorium had already reached its 950 person capacity before 6 p.m., a long line of people, some holding candles, stretched from the entrance of the school and snaked through the parking lot. Speakers were set up outside along the line of people and played the audio from the interfaith service inside.
On the road leading up to the school, cars were parked in every possible way in any available space for at least a quarter mile in either direction.
The Red Cross was on hand giving out dozens of blankets, snacks and cups of coffee to the line of grieving people.
"We are mainly here to support the families," said Jared Fiala, 15, of Newtown, outside the high school. Fiala and his two friends, Michael Unschuld, 15, and Kumal Murwah, 16, also of Newtown, held signs that read, "Our hearts and prayers are with the victims and families of Newtown."
Unschuld said his sister babysat for two of the children killed in the shooting, and explained that Newtown is such a small community that everyone is tied to those killed in one way or another.
"On Thursday no one even know what Newtown was and by Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. everyone did," said Murwah. "We are already such a close knit community and this will only bring us closer."
First responders, both state and local police and emergency personnel were greeted with a standing ovation at 7:30 p.m. as they entered the auditorium. Obama arrived 20 minutes later and according to reports sat next to Gov. Dannel Malloy. The service began shortly after Obama arrived with prayers and songs from local clergy and from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
Gov. Dannel Malloy also stood to spoke at the memorial service Sunday, speaking of the strength of community that Newtown has shown.
"We will move on, we will never forget, we will in many ways be made stronger for what has transpired," Malloy said.
A sentiment that Newtown First Selectwoman Patricia Llodra echoed saying, "I know that Newtown will prevail."
Obama spoke last, giving a moving speech in which he touched briefly on the politics of gun control. During the time Obama spoke on the Newtown High School stage he focused on how Newtown had inspired the nation with their bravery and love the community showed after the horror of what happened on Friday. He also discussed what will likely be a major political battle ahead, gun control and school safety.
In closing, he read the names of the teachers and children who died, as sobs and anguished cries could be heard through the auditorium.
"I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation," Obama said. "Mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow nor can they heal your wounded hearts."
White House Press Office pool reports contributed to this article.
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