President Obama Joins Newtown In Memorializing A School’s Students And Staff

President Obama arrived this afternoon in Newtown, Conn., to meet with the families of students and teacher who died in Friday’s attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School. While those meetings are being kept private, the president will also speak at a memorial service for the 20 children and 6 adults killed at the school.

We’ll update this post with news from the event, and highlights of the president’s speech. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy is also scheduled to speak. On his Twitter feed this afternoon, Malloy urged residents to reach out for help: “If you or a child need assistance or counseling,” he said, “dial 2-1-1 from anywhere in CT to reach a trained specialist.”

Update at 7:53 p.m. ET.

Rev. Matthew Crebbin explains why clergy are sitting among the crowd, not gathered on the stage, where a podium with the presidential seal sits nearly alone:

“We wanted to have a symbolic gesture — that we ourselves are with you, and among you in the coming days. That we are all in this together.”

Update at 7:49 p.m. ET. Interfaith prayer vigil begins:

After listening to a pianist playing “gathering music” for some minutes, the capacity crowd in the Newtown High School auditorium stands to applaud President Obama, who enters and sits near the center of the front row.

The crowd is greeted by Rev. Matthew Crebbin, minister of the Newtown Congregational Church, who says, “We needed this. We needed to be together.”

Our original post continues:

Media access of Sunday evening’s memorial service is being limited to pool coverage. Reporting for the pool, Ann Compton of ABC described the scene inside the Newtown High School auditorium by saying it was cavernous, with wooden seats and a broad stage framed with blue curtains.

The stage was set with a podium bearing the presidential seal, along with the U.S. and Connecticut flags, “and what appears to be a low table set with clear glass votive candles,” Compton wrote. She continued:

“The hall is filling with families, many with elementary age children and many of them are clutching stuffed toys and animals. Adults chat in clusters adding to the general buzz in the room.

“Sen. Joe Lieberman is talking to some near the front.

“I am surrounded by kids. And some very weepy Dads.”

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