A week after the horrific elementary school shooting in which a 20-year-old loner gunned down 20 children and six adults, first lady Michelle Obama penned an open letter to Newtown residents in the Friday edition of Connecticut’s Harford Courant newspaper. The letter, titled “Holding You in Our Hearts,” has strong words of praise for the residents of the small picturesque town rocked by the massacre, one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

“As a mother of two young daughters, my heart aches for you and your families. Like so many Americans, I wish there were something -- anything -- I could do or say to ease your anguish,” the first lady wrote. “But I know that I cannot begin to imagine the depths of your grief. I know that for many of you, the pain you are enduring right now seems unbearable; and many of you may be asking yourselves, how can we go on -- as families and as a community?”

Mrs. Obama added that over the past week she has been “awed and inspired by Newtown’s heroes: the first responders who risked their lives at a moment’s notice; the educators whose devotion to their students shone brightest in one of our nation's darkest hours; the children who comforted each other despite their fear; the families coming together to support each other as they grieve.”

The full letter on the Currant’s website includes a photo of the victims.

Though careful not to politicize the tragedy, Mrs. Obama made it clear that she would not shy away from the renewed debate over the need for stricter gun laws in America. “As my husband has said, in the coming weeks, he will use all the powers of his office to engage citizens from across this country to find ways to prevent tragedies like this one,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, some prominent gun-control advocates see the first lady as being in a unique position to begin a national dialogue on the issue. In her own open letter to Michelle Obama this week, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, the first woman ordained as a Conservative rabbi by the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, asked the first lady to lead a “grassroots campaign on a national scale,” much as she has done with nutrition.

“This massive campaign needs a face -- a compelling, galvanizing leader,” Eilberg wrote on the Huffington Post. “You are the best known, best loved, and most respected mother in America. You are obviously a person of boundless personal and professional gifts, and you have devoted your first four years in the White House to issues related to children’s health.”

At the urging of Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, residents of Newtown led a national moment of silence Friday morning at 9:30 a.m. The White House and President Obama observed as well. Bells chimed 26 times, once for each of the victims who died at the school. The suspected gunman, Adam Lanza, is also said to have killed his mother at their home before the rampage, making a total of 27 victims.

Later Friday morning, the National Rifle Assocation (NRA) held its first-ever press conference to address issues of gun control. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre vehemently defended firearms possession, and he blamed the media and the lack of firearms in school for the Newtown shooting. He claimed that signage indicating schools are a gun-free zone "tells every killer that schools are the safest place" to enter and open fire. 

Read Michelle Obama’s full open letter to the Currant here.