Official White House photographer Pete Souza was present for President Obama’s remarks in Newtown, Conn. following the devastating shootings of 20 schoolchildren and 8 adults in this bucolic New England community. But some of the most affecting photos from Obama’s visit were those taken by amateur photographers, as the President greeted those who had lost loved ones on Dec. 14 backstage. These photos, shared on Twitter by family members who met Obama before his speech, show a hopeful future for an otherwise tragic story.
(MORE: Obama at Newtown Vigil: ‘These Tragedies Must End’)
In this photo posted on Twitter, Obama embraces Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old shooting victim Emilie Parker. On Saturday, Parker gave an emotional speech to reporters, in which he remembered his daughter but also asked for compassion for the family of the shooter. “I can’t imagine how hard this experience must be for you,” he said, “and I want you to know that our family and our love and our support goes out to you as well.”
In another photo reportedly released by the Parkers and originally shared on a Facebook page set up for Emilie’s memorial fund, Obama poses with a group of Newtown children:
(PHOTOS: Remembering the Victims of the Newtown Shooting)
The coach of Newtown’s high school football team, Steven George, also posted a picture of a message he and teacher Bobby Pattison left on a school whiteboard for the President — and of Obama’s response:
But among the most affecting were these pictures of the President holding the grandchild of Dawn Hochsprung, posted to Twitter by her daughters, Cristina Hassinger and Erica Lafferty. The 47-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School principal reportedly lost her life Friday when she lunged at the gunman in an attempt to disarm him.
Cristina Hassinger’s photo has been retweeted more than 2,600 times.
(MORE: 20 Brighter Stars: Newtown Mourns its Slain Children)