Warm welcome ... Barack Obama meets students at Hyde Park Academy High School in Chicago. Photo: AFP
THE US President, Barack Obama, lamented the loss of America's ''most innocent and helpless'' to shootings, as he made an emotional return to Chicago to address the blight of gun violence in his home city.
He was appearing at a school in his neighbourhood to call for support in bringing an end to the bloodshed that claimed the life of Hadiya Pendleton, a teenager shot dead a few days after performing at his inauguration last month.
Speaking earlier while awarding posthumous presidential medals to the six staff killed alongside 20 young pupils in the Connecticut primary school massacre in December, Mr Obama on Friday paid tribute to those killed after having ''no idea that evil was about to strike''.
''When it did, they could have taken shelter by themselves, they could have focused on their own safety, on their own wellbeing - but they didn't,'' he said to an audience of tearful relatives at the White House. ''They gave their lives to protect the precious children in their care and gave all they had for the most innocent and helpless among us. That's what we honour today.''
Mr Obama highlighted the death of Hadiya, 15, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, as he urged Congress to vote on proposals for tougher gun control laws. Last week he met students at Hyde Park Academy High School on Chicago's south side who are part of the Becoming a Man program, which aims to encourage healthy ways to channel anger.
The number of murders in Chicago last year was 506, compared with 433 in 2011 and 512 in 2008.
Purple ribbons were wrapped around trees and posts lining the road where Hadiya lived with her mother.
Nate Pendleton, her father, welcomed the President's visit and support. He said, however, that a solution must come from communities standing up to gangs.
''Politicians can only do so much, but if people learn anything from my daughter's death, I hope that it's not to turn their heads, not to look away from what's happening,'' Mr Pendleton said. ''We have to find a way to make youths and people in gangs realise that life is precious. It's like a PlayStation game to them but once you kill someone there's no going back. There's no reset button.''
He hoped his daughter's death would be honoured by a renewed effort in Washington. ''Hadiya has become the poster child for gun control. I hope people will think about what's happened and realise that nobody is safe from this.''