Barack Obama Remembers Sandy Hook as 'One of the Darkest Days' of His Presidency on Shooting Anniversary

"Today we remember the children and adults who were killed ... and the families who have endured so much grief," the former president said before urging action to prevent future acts of gun violence

Barack Obama Attends My Brother's Keeper's Alliance First National Gathering MBK Rising! In Oakland
Former President Barack Obama. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty

President Barack Obama is remembering the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., as "one of the darkest days" of his presidency.

Nine years ago, on Dec. 14, 2012, 20 first-graders and six educators were shot and killed in a school shooting that rocked the country that had for years been plagued by mass shooting events at its schools.

"Nine years ago was one of the darkest days of my presidency," Obama, 60, said on Twitter Tuesday, the anniversary of the shooting. "Today we remember the children and adults who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, and the families who have endured so much grief."

In a follow-up post, Obama said, "The best way to honor them — the only way that really matters — is to fight this epidemic of gun violence and prevent even more senseless death and suffering. We can, and must, do more."

The murder of 20 children and the adults who cared for them did not spur lawmakers to act in pursuit of real change to curb gun violence, however, which has increased since the Sandy Hook shooting.

Shortly after the 2021 shooting, Obama addressed the entire nation from the White House.

"We've endured too many of these tragedies over the past few years," he said at the time. "And each time I learn the news, I react not as a president but as anybody else would, as a parent. And that was especially true today. I know there's not a parent in America that doesn't feel the same overwhelming grief that I do."

"The majority of those who died today were children — beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old," he continued. Then, with tears in his reddened eyes, Obama became emotional and stood in silence while White House photographers in the briefing room snapped his picture.

"They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own," he said.

The president then said the country is grieving for the victims and their families. "Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children's innocence has been lost," he said.

A former White House photographer spoke to PEOPLE in 2017 about how the president responded to the news in 2012, calling it the "worst day" of Obama's presidency.

"The president slumped in reaction against the Oval sofa, visibly deflated," Pete Souza wrote in his book about the Obama's years in the White House, which includes a photo of Obama in the heartbreaking moment. "I'm sure he was thinking foremost of the parents, imagining the horror of learning that their six-year-old son or daughter had been shot to death by a madman and would never come home."

Pete Souza/The White House/Getty.

Sandy Hook Elementary did not welcome students into its classrooms on Tuesday.

Last year, the Newtown Board of Education approved a proposal by Superintendent of Schools Lorrie Rodrigue to keep students and educators home the anniversary of the shooting.

Dec. 12 "is always difficult for so many staff, students, and families," Rodrigue wrote in a letter to her school community. "Aside from the emotion this day evokes, we often have to deal with calls or anonymous threats that raise levels of stress for the entire school community."

Like he did in his tweets on Tuesday, Obama called for "meaningful action to prevent more tragedies" on the day of the shooting in 2012.

He ended his briefing with a prayer: "May God bless the memory of the victims and, in the words of Scripture, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds."

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