As the father of two daughters, the president said “our hearts are broken,” and he spoke of parents across the country hugging their children tighter tonight.
“We have endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years. And each time I learned the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would, as a parent,” he said. "And that was especially true today. I know there is not a parent in America who does not feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. The majority of those who died today were children - beautiful little kids between the ages of five and 10 years old.”
The president spoke several hours after children and adults were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Obama paused several times during his short statement and struggled to keep his composure when he described the victims.
“They had their entire lives ahead of them - birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” he said. "Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.”
This is at least the 10th mass shooting in the United States since Obama took office in January 2009, with several taking place in previous years.
The president mentioned several of the incidents, including the killings of three people at a shopping mall in the northwestern state of Oregon just three days earlier.
He said something must be done to stop further violence in public places.
“These neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children," he said. "And we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Obama did not discuss specific steps that might be taken. Social media in the United States were full of demands Friday for tougher gun control legislation.
Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the president remains committed to renewing the federal ban on assault weapons, which lapsed in 2004.
Out of respect for the shooting victims, Obama has ordered the flag atop the White House flown at half-staff, and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, has done the same at the U.S. Capitol.
Speaker Boehner has released a written statement, calling on Americans to “lock arms and unite as citizens…to rise above unspeakable evil.”