As he announced proposals to curb an "epidemic" of gun violence Wednesday, President Barack Obama paused to address the parents of 7-year-old Grace McDonnell, who sat in the front row at the White House.
After she died in the Newtown school attack, McDonnell's parents, Chris and Lynn McDonnell, gave Obama one of their daughter's paintings. It hangs in the president's private study.
''When I visited Newtown last month, I spent some private time with many of the families who lost their children that day,'' Obama said. "And one was the family of Grace McDonnell. Grace's parents are here. Grace was 7 years old when she was struck down — just a gorgeous, caring, joyful little girl. I'm told she loved pink. She loved the beach. She dreamed of becoming a painter."
"And so just before I left, Chris, her father, gave me one of her paintings, and I hung it in my private study just off the Oval Office. And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace. And I think about the life that she lived and the life that lay ahead of her, and most of all, I think about how, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now — for Grace. For the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give."
"For the men and women in big cities and small towns who fall victim to senseless violence each and every day. For all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm. Let's do the right thing. Let's do the right thing for them, and for this country that we love so much.''
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, who attended the White House announcement, introduced herself to the McDonnells and thanked them for their willingness to reach out. She said the emotional impact of child's painting — or the words of a grieving parent — can play a powerful role in the gun debate.
"I feel certain that the people who have had the most influence … [are] parents and grandparents, that is the people who lost a child, who lost a sister or mother,'' DeLauro said. "That should carry enormous weight in the direction we want to move in."
The McDonnells gave Obama the painting when they met him during his visit to Newtown a month ago. In an interview with CNN shortly after the visit, Lynn McDonnell said she told the president about her daughter's passion for art.
"Grace's dream was to live on the beach and to be a painter, so we offered him one of her paintings which he said he would treasure," she said.
The McDonnells were among a number of Newtown residents attending Obama's announcement. The family of Victoria Soto also attended, as did Newtown First Selectman E. Patricia Llodra, who said after the event that she wants the country to remember the tragedy at Newtown.
"For me, we are past the time for political ideology or rhetoric,'' Llodra said after the White House event. "This is the time for change. It should not be an issue of Democrats or Republicans."
Grace's painting depicts a cheerful green and blue owl, with her name written beneath it.
"A beautiful and artistic soul, Grace was truly a gift from God and represented all that is good in this world," read her obituary in the Newtown Bee.
"Our daughter Grace was the love and light of our family," relatives said in a statement to The Washington Post after she died.