WASHINGTON – President Bush tended to a grieving community in Blacksburg, Va., on Tuesday, telling students, faculty, staff and victims' families at Virginia Tech, the site of the country's largest fatal shooting spree, that the rest of the nation is praying for them.
"This is a day of mourning for the Virginia Tech community and it is a day of sadness for our entire nation. We come to express our sympathy in this time of anguish. I hope you know that people all over this country are thinking about you and asking God to provide comfort for all who have been affected," the president said, addressing the community where 32 people were gunned down in two separate attacks by a lone gunman who then took his own life.
"Yesterday began like any other day. Students woke up and grabbed their backpacks and headed for class. And soon the day took a dark turn. ... By the end of the morning it was the worst day of violence on a college campus in American history, and for many of you it was the worst day of your lives."
"I know many of you feel awfully far away from the people you lean on in difficult times but as a father, I can tell you that a parent's love is never far. ... I ask you to reach out to those who ache their sons and daughters will never come home," Bush said.
"May God bless you and keep you and keep the souls of the lost and may his love touch all of those who suffer and grieve," he concluded.
Bush and first lady Laura Bush went to Blacksburg, a town four hours south of Washington, D.C., to express "as representatives of the entire nation," the sorrow shared across the U.S. The president spoke for roughly five minutes.
"They will be there as the national representatives on a day that is full of sorrow for every American," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said Tuesday morning. "They are going to be there to express the sympathies, the support and the prayers of the country."
In a proclamation made earlier in the day, the president ordered U.S. flags to be flown at half staff at the White House, all federal buildings and grounds, naval craft and military posts. They will remain lowered through sunset on Sunday.
"Our nation grieves with those who have lost loved ones at Virginia Tech. We hold the victims in our hearts. We lift them up in our prayers, and we ask a loving God to comfort those who are suffering," Bush said in the flag proclamation.
Bush planned to give three interviews with national television networks on campus before returning to the White House, Perino said. He traveled with from Washington, D.C. Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine turned his plane around from Japan and flew home Monday after hearing about the shooting.
"My wife Ann and I are very privileged to be with you today and there is nowhere else in the world we'd rather be," Kaine said, describing how they waited in the hotel and at the airport in Japan for news of the shooting.
In a heartfelt speech, Kaine, referencing Job and other religious figures, said the images that the students projected in news programs around the world is one they should be proud of.
"Even in the midst of the darkest day in the history of the campus, what you showed to the world ... (was) the incredible community spirit and the sense of unity on the campus, and before it was about who was to blame and what could happen differently, it was about how we take care of each other," he said. "You have a remarkable community here."
In introducing the president, Kaine said Bush was also "very engaged" in offering help, and even arranged for quicker passage of Kaine's plane home from Japan.
As the convocation proceeded, 12 agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were helping to conduct the investigation at Virginia Tech along with some 15 agents contributed by the FBI. Perino said the federal help, including input from the U.S. Attorney's office in the Western District of Virginia, is being coordinated at a command center set up on the campus.
Already, the two 9mm and .22 caliber handguns said to be used by shooter Cho Seung-Hui are in the hands of ATF officials, who took it to the Ammendale Research Lab in Maryland. This is the special ATF lab that handles major cases, including one of the most significant in D.C. -- the sniper attacks of 2003. The lab there did the ballistics with the Bushmaster rifle.
In addition to helping with the crime scene, the Department of Justice is making counselors available to victims and their families through a special office and the Education Department is offering assistance as well, she said.
The Korean embassy also sent its condolences to the Blacksburg community. The shooter came to the United States from Korea with his family in 1991. His visa had been renewed in 2003.
"The Embassy of the Republic of Korea is shocked and dismayed by the violent crime that took place on April 16th at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. We express our deepest sympathies and most sincere condolences to the victims and their families and friends," Public Affairs Minister Sock Joong Yoon said in a statement.
In Jordan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who left a job as president of Texas A&M to take the Pentagon post late last year, expressed his condolences for the tragedy.
"As a recent president of a university that only about seven and a half years ago had its own tragedy when 12 students were killed when the bonfire collapsed at Texas A&M, perhaps more than most I can understand the horror and the emotions at Virginia Tech," Gates told reporters traveling with him. "Knowing the lasting impact of the 1999 bonfire collapse at Texas A&M, I can only imagine the emotional impact of what has happened at Virginia Tech."
Headed down from Washington, D.C., was the entire Virginia congressional delegation led by Sens. John Warner and Jim Webb. Votes in the House were postponed until the evening so lawmakers could travel to Blacksburg.
After the shooting on Monday, Bush expressed shock and sadness about the killings. He lamented that schools should be places of "safety, sanctuary and learning."
"When that sanctuary is violated, the impact is felt in every American classroom in every American community," Bush said at the White House.
While Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y., noted the need for strict gun laws in her Monday statement offering condolences, the university last year helped defeat a bill in the state general assembly that would have given college students and employees the right to carry handguns on campus.
Asked about changes in gun control policy, Perino deflected questions on Tuesday, saying the time for that discussion is not now.
"We understand that there's going to be and there has been an ongoing national discussion, conversation and debate about gun control policy. Of course we are going to be participants in that conversation," she said. "Today, however, is a day that is time to focus on the families, the school, the community."
Perino added: "Everyone's been shaken to the core by this event and so I think what we need to do is focus on support of the victims and their families and then also allow the facts of the case to unfold before we talk any more about policies."
FOX News' Ian McCaleb, Catherine Herridge and William LaJeunesse and The Associated Press contributed to this report.