Washington, DC - For a moment Friday, President Obama dropped his usual steely public persona, and instead spoke as a heartbroken parent as he addressed the nation on the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
"They had their entire lives ahead of them" said Obama, pausing several times to catch his voice and wiping away tears. "Birthdays, weddings, kids of their own."
In his brief comments, Obama mostly steered away from the debate on American gun laws that has been reignited as a result of Friday's mass shooting that left at least 20 children and six adults dead.
He spoke from the James Brady briefing room at the White House, named after President Ronald Reagan's press secretary who was grievously wounded in an assassination attempt on the former president. Brady went on to dedicate his life to fighting gun violence. But Obama didn't delve too deeply on the long-running American debate over gun control.
"Whether it's an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora or a street corner in Chicago -- these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children," Obama said. "And we're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics."
Obama, instead, said he was digesting the magnitude of the tragedy as a parent.
"We've endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years, and each time I hear the news I react not as a president but as anyone else would, as a parent," Obama said. "And that was especially true today."
American presidents have shown emotion before as they address the nation after some of the country's worst tragedies.
-- Ronald Reagan's voice cracked at times during his 1986 prime-time address the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded. At one point, Reagan said he and wife Nancy were "pained to the core."
-- George W. Bush teared up at times in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Two days after the attacks, taking questions from reporters in the Oval Office, Bush's voice cracked as he vowed: "This is a terrible moment, but this country will not relent."
-- Bill Clinton expressed anger and outrage in 1995 while denouncing the Oklahoma City bombing as "evil."
But Obama's response seemed particularly poignant, in part, because in public as a campaigner and commander in chief he's eschewed drama. (He did a wipe away a tear as he spoke to supporters at his final campaign rally last month in November, but the moment was more joyful than raw.)
The political debate over gun laws will undoubtedly be rekindled with fervor in the hours and days ahead and Obama will be at the center of the debate.
But at this moment, the president sounded like many American parents who are trying to digest the unimaginable.
"This evening, Michelle and I will do what I know every parent in America will do, which is hug our children a little tighter and we'll tell them that we love them, and we'll remind each other how deeply we love one another," Obama said. "But there are families in Connecticut who cannot do that tonight. And they need all of us right now."