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‘We are failing our children’

US President Barack Obama on Sunday demanded changes in the way the country dealt with gun violence, though he avoided the use of the word “gun” itself in consoling the Connecticut town shattered by the massacre of 20 young schoolchildren.

I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts

Obama said the world would judge the nation by the way it cared for its children, and that Friday’s slaughter left that judgement wanting.

“Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this in the last few days. And if we’re honest with ourselves the answer’s no,” Obama told a packed auditorium at Newtown High School at the end of a sombre multi-faith service.

“We’re not doing enough and we will have to change. What choice do we have?” the President said. “Are we really prepared to say that we're powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?”

The emotional prayer vigil capped a day when worshippers sought solace in churches to mourn the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where a gunman used a military-style assault rifle to kill six adults and 20 first-graders before committing suicide.

The President conceded that none of his words would match the sorrow but he declared to the Connecticut community, site of the second-deadliest school shooting in US history: “You are not alone.”

A more detailed picture of Adam Lanza’s stunning attack emerged. Police said he was armed with hundreds of bullets in high-capacity magazines of about 30 rounds each for the Bushmaster AR 15 rifle and two handguns he carried into the school. He had a fourth weapon, a shotgun, in his car outside.

All the dead children were either six or seven years old, feeding more emotion into a revived debate about whether stricter gun laws could prevent future mass shootings in the US.

Obama noted it was the fourth time in his presidency he had needed to console a community after such an attack, following the shootings in Tucson, Arizona in January, 2011; Aurora, Colorado in July; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in August.

“Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of the nation,” Obama said. “I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts.”

Obama, who on Friday wiped away tears as he addressed the nation following the killings, somberly spoke the first names of the 20 children. People in the audience wailed and cried out as they heard the names. He said he would convene a meeting of law enforcers, parents, educators and others in an effort to prevent future tragedies, but he did not specifically call for tougher gun laws, mindful of the heated debate ahead on the issue.

While townspeople grieved, investigators examined forensic evidence and scoured the crime scene in a process likely to extend for weeks. Many more witnesses needed to be interviewed, possibly including children who survived the attack, state police Lieutenant Paul Vance said.

Townspeople and visitors took solace in church on Sunday. Mass at St Rose Catholic church was packed. The priest’s announcements included news that the Christmas pageant rehearsal would go on as planned, but without six-year-old Olivia Engel, killed on Friday before she could play the role of an angel.

The children who survived will not have to return to the scene of the massacre. They will attend classes at an unused school in a Connecticut town about 11 kilometres away, school officials said. Classes elsewhere in the town will resume today, except at Sandy Hook.

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