In an interview with "World News" anchor Charles Gibson, President Bush said he and first lady Laura Bush came to Virginia Tech Tuesday to let the victims and families of the nation's worst campus shooting know that the nation stands with them.
"You give it your best shot on the words," Bush told ABC News, "and you hug and cry and that's what Laura and I have just done."
The president admitted to Gibson, "I don't know how adequate I am to help heal the heart," but added, "the only thing you can try to do, Charles, is show up and express your love and concern and give them a sense of assurance that there will be a better tomorrow."
When Gibson asked the president whether or not he expected the violence at Virginia Tech to renew the long-standing debate over gun control, the president quickly said, "I do. I mean, I think when a guy walks in and shoots 32 people, it's going to cause there to be a lot of policy debate."
Bush, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association in both his presidential bids, acknowledged, "Now's not the time to do the debate until we're absolutely certain about what happened and after we help people get over their grieving. But, yeah, I do think there's going to be a lot of discussion."
Earlier in the day, the president delivered a brief, six-minute address at a convocation ceremony on the campus of Virginia Tech.
Bush, who had earlier ordered flags at half-staff over federal buildings, including the White House and Capitol in Washington, said he and Mrs. Bush arrived with "hearts full of sorrow," proclaiming, "This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community, and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation."
President, First Lady Comfort Families
First lady Laura Bush, standing next to her husband on the campus of Virginia Tech, said the families she and the president met with Tuesday were "shocked."
The Bushes, parents of twin daughters Jenna and Barbara who graduated from Yale and the University of Texas in Austin respectively, met with approximately 50 family members, including one victim and two families who had lost their only children, prior to doing a series of interviews.
Of the families who'd lost their only children, Mrs. Bush said, "The idea of that is so difficult for any parent to imagine," before adding, "They don't really understand yet what it means for them and for the rest of their lives."
ABC News' Gibson said the situation reminded him of the best-selling book "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" by Harold S. Kushner, to which the president replied, "That's life in many ways. I wish it were an easy, straight-line progression from birth to death, but that's not the way it works."
The president continued, "All of us are confronted with different disappointments and in some cases, tragedies. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose a child."
Bush said the grief the nation is experiencing is shared overseas, having received an outpouring of international support.
But the drama was brought home not in the phone calls from international leaders but in meeting with those directly affected by the massacre.
"I think the thing that struck me was the mom telling me about the fact that her child was in class," a visibly moved President Bush told ABC News. "She said my child was just sitting in class learning."
Sanctuary of Education Shaken
Mrs. Bush, a former school librarian, said the incident "shatters" the sanctuary of education, adding, "There will be children around the country, especially younger children, who will be afraid about going to school, especially the ones who watched some of this. It's really a time for everyone in our country to reassure our children and to pray for these children."
The president said it's too early to fully assess the lessons learned from the horrific events at Virginia Tech but added that recent acts of school violence at Columbine and at an Amish school in Pennsylvania should alert everyone to be on guard.
"When you see somebody acting up, pay attention to them," Bush said, before again saying, "I'm not sure what the lessons will be out of a big college campus like this but they'll be some lessons learned that will actually make it more likely that this education institutions will once again be sanctuaries."