AUGUSTA, Maine — Mainers, including Gov. Paul LePage, congressional leaders, school and gun control officials, reacted with sadness to the tragic school shooting deaths Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

President Obama issued a proclamation ordering flags be lowered in respect for the victims, and LePage issued an order at 4 p.m. for both the United States and State of Maine flags to be flown at half-staff starting immediately through sunset on Tuesday, Dec.18.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and community affected by this horrific event this morning in Connecticut,” LePage said in a statement. “It is difficult to comprehend the loss of so many innocent lives.

“Ann and I will continue to pray for the families of the children and staff members who lost their lives in what should be the safest of places, their school,” the governor said.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe called the events that unfolded at the elementary school in Western Connecticut an act of “senseless violence.”

“Like all Americans, I am shocked and sickened at this reprehensible, heinous act at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut,” she said in a press release. “Such senseless violence is simply unimaginable and has no place in this great country of ours. As we struggle to comprehend this national tragedy, we stand united in holding the families and loved ones of those lost in our thoughts, and we pray for the full recovery of everyone who has been injured.”

The longtime senator, who gave her farewell speech to the Senate on Wednesday, is not alone in her shock.

“What happened this morning is every parent’s worst nightmare,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree said in a statement. “Our schools should be a safe place and no parent should ever worry that their son or daughter might not come home at the end of the day. My thoughts and prayers are with the families in that community.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins described the deadly shooting as a “horrific tragedy.”

“My heart is filled with sorrow for the victims, particularly the little children, whose lives were cut short today, for their loved ones who are enduring unspeakable grief, and for the entire community which is struggling to comprehend this shocking act of violence,” she said.

The age of those killed in the violence hit U.S. Rep Mike Michaud like a punch, he said in a statement.

“There are so many victims, and too many of them are young, innocent children,” he said. “It’s hard to even comprehend how something like this could take place. Words cannot begin to express the shock and sadness felt by those directly impacted by this tragedy or the sympathy that all of us feel for those who lost so much today.

“I know I join all Mainers in sending my thoughts and prayers to the families, friends and schoolmates of the victims and the entire community that was so drastically impacted by this heinous act,” Michaud said.

House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said he is grieving for those “whose lives have changed forever by this unbelievable tragedy.”

“Like so many parents across the nation, I will find solace in hugging my children and tucking them in tonight,” he said. “As a state and nation, we must come together to support the community of Newtown as they mourn this unspeakable loss.”

Maine Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen echoed the statements.

“It is tremendously sad news,” he said. “Our hearts go out to the families and the community.”

Today is a day people should be thinking about the grieving families, said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Department of Education.

“We’re trying to make the day just about the families,” he said. “We just need some time to talk through it. There will be time [early next week] to talk about protocols … what we would do after something like this.”

All schools in Maine are required to have a comprehensive hazards plan that cover protocols for security incidents, chemical spills, weather related hazards and other school situations.

Two anti-gun groups pointed to Friday’s tragedy as an example for why more legislation is needed.

“Gun violence in American is out of control,” John Rosenthal, gun owner and founder of Stop Handgun Violence, said in a statement. “Over 150 people are shot and 83 are killed including eight children every day. With 27 people killed including 18 innocent children at an elementary school today in [Conneticut], it’s time to renew the federal assault weapons ban and require criminal background checks for all gun sales. If not now — when?”

Karen A D’Andrea, Executive Director Maine Citizens Against Handgun Violence said, “We call on our elected officials from Maine and across the US to take action and prevent the senseless taking of innocent lives.”

Portland school Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said in a statement that employees had Newtown in their thoughts and prayers. Social workers will be available on Monday for any Portland students who need support, he said.

“No words can truly convey the sadness we feel for the students and families affected by this event,” Caulk said.

Brewer Superintendent Daniel Lee, who described Friday’s shooting as “the most horrific thing to think about,” stressed that parents should talk with their children about the tragedy.

“They need reassurance that they’re safe,” he said.

Lee said the school department will be issuing a letter to parents on Monday about how to talk to their children about violence.

“Senseless violence is hard for anybody to understand,” he said. “Kids need to understand that sometimes people do horrific thing to others.”

For more information on helping your child cope with this event, please see the National Child Traumatic Stress Network at