These are the faces of innocence. They share the bright eyes, smiles and everything we expect of children at the precocious ages of 6 and 7, years when they see the world as a place of wonder.
But all 20 first-graders are gone now, their far-too-young lives grotesquely ended in a slaughter that our shocked nation still is grappling to comprehend. And we are left to wonder if these victims of horrifying violence will be the faces of change.
Do they become the lasting image on the American psyche that makes the political obstacles dividing us go away and shakes us into meaningful action to prevent further mass shootings? Or do these faces of unspeakable tragedy fade without real change -- just as other faces have from killing sprees in Oak Creek, Aurora and Tucson, and Virginia Tech and even Columbine before them?
Call it whatever you like. A tipping point. A watershed incident. Or, in the words of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the straw that broke the camel's back. But it feels as if the Dec. 14 massacre of 26 people in the sanctuary of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., may be the soul-searching moment when we finally have had enough.
Newtown has become Anytown, USA.
The open question is whether this raw emotion and anger will translate into something tangible.
"What's happening is just a travesty," said the Rev. Paul Watermulder, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Burlingame and a former Berkeley
Perhaps, but California has been where the rest of the nation is today. Galvanized by another elementary school shooting nearly 24 years ago, legislators passed the nation's first assault weapons ban as part of a series of stringent gun laws that has given us the country's toughest restrictions.
"We made the decision to change," said Peter Keane, a law professor at Golden Gate University and longtime gun-control advocate. "Now, if there's ever going to be a moment to change the insanity surrounding gun laws in this country, then it just arrived. If this is not done now, it will never be done."
The sad reality is gun violence is an all-too-common occurrence. In the Bay Area, the cities of San Jose, Oakland and San Francisco are coming to the end of a painful year that has seen a rise in homicides -- typically gun-related.
In some ways we can become numb to that slow, steady rate of slayings, even when they happen in our own communities. But when a mass killing occurs, like the Oikos University shootings in Oakland on April 2 that left seven dead and three wounded, it grabs our attention. At least for a short period.
Yet it took the senselessness of Sandy Hook to reignite the long-dormant debate on gun control. President Barack Obama has promised to present new firearms proposals to Congress in January. Feinstein will introduce a bill that would re-enact an updated version of the federal assault weapons ban, which lapsed in 2004, in the effort to curb military-style guns like the .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle used in Newtown.
Such legislation is a tough sell in a nation clearly enamored with guns -- there are an estimated 300 million in the United States -- and where conservative-minded politicians are hesitant to cross the National Rifle Association.
Kristy Galvan-Visconti, a nurse who helped organize a candlelight vigil in Pleasanton, said the Sandy Hook massacre has hit her hard as a mother of four school-age children. But she, like so many, is conflicted about what steps leaders should take next.
"I've thought a lot about our freedoms and our constitutionally granted rights," Galvan-Visconti said. "I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. I'm really torn because I do believe in those rights. But I also think our country should take a look at the types of weapons made available to our citizens."
Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a senior fellow at the University of Southern California's Price School of Public Policy, said it's frustrating because no one can say what the "magic formula" is when it comes to reforms that might have a significant effect. But while Jeffe believes "all ideas have to be on the table," she sees the potential for some gun limitations because the Sandy Hook massacre is different from anything we've ever witnessed.
"Twenty babies were shot down," Jeffe said. "That image will linger."
The image of five dead children in Stockton had similar power in 1989.
Los Angeles state legislators Mike Roos and David Roberti earlier had co-sponsored a bill to ban assault weapons. But despite a 1984 massacre of 21 people in a San Ysidro McDonald's by a killer whose weapons included an Uzi, there was little political will for regulation.
Then, Roos said, "Stockton happened."
On Jan. 17, 1989, a troubled drifter toting a semi-automatic rifle fired 106 rounds in three minutes on the Cleveland Elementary School playground, killing five children and wounding 29 other children and one teacher. Roberti was in the office of Republican Gov. George Deukmejian when word arrived about the attack.
"He was given a note by his secretary and his face became visibly ashen," Roberti said. "He let it be known not too much later that he would sign something if we could get it to his desk. It wouldn't have happened without the blood of martyrs, and that's exactly what those children were."
Over 17 weeks, amid an intense lobbying effort by the NRA to defeat the bill, Roos and Roberti built support. It narrowly cleared the state Senate and passed the Assembly by a single vote with Chuck Quackenbush, a Republican from Los Altos, being the difference as he broke with party ranks.
"It was a very polarizing time, but I felt a responsibility to listen to the voters who put me in office," said Quackenbush, who now is a Florida detective who investigates fraud.
Researchers say it is difficult to quantify the effectiveness of any gun laws because they often have so many loopholes and can be poorly enforced. But Roberti and Roos remain convinced this ban has made a difference.
"Knock on wood, but we haven't had another Cleveland School happen in California," Roberti said of massacres involving young children.
But it didn't end mass killings. In 1993, the 101 California Street shooting in San Francisco where eight died and six more wounded sent shock waves that would be felt in Washington, D.C. That incident helped lead to the federal assault weapons ban, co-authored by Feinstein, that became law in 1994 and was allowed to lapse a decade later.
In hindsight, Quackenbush said he would not vote for the state ban. He doesn't believe the law "stopped one assault weapon from being in a California closet." Rather than focus on banning weapons, Quackenbush said if anything good comes from the Sandy Hook massacre it should be the realization that mental-health issues are the root cause of these tragedies.
"I could write the script for what's about to happen in the political debate, because it's going to be very similar to what occurred in California," Quackenbush said. "Everyone will be passionate and call each other names. But more laws are not going to protect children in schools.
"I would go in the direction of improving mental-health treatment. The commonality in all these mass shootings is that (the gunmen) uniformly are mentally ill."
But some national dynamics seem to be shifting. Several politicians with high NRA approval ratings -- albeit Democrats -- have signaled a willingness to reconsider their gun control positions.
Adam Winkler, author of "Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America," said he senses the mood in the country now echoes the feeling in California after the Stockton schoolyard shooting.
"There is a new political reality," said Winkler, a UCLA law professor. "Seeing children massacred is enough to get anybody's attention. But the problem is that even with any new law, there still will be 300 million guns already in circulation."
Feinstein told "PBS NewsHour" that she has "every sense that it will be an uphill road," but that limitations on military-style weapons must be part of the solution.
"This is the moment because people have had it," Feinstein said. "They live in fear. ... This has to stop."
But, Jeffe cautioned, the moment must be seized.
"Something has to be accomplished while this is still fresh," she said. "It's just the way the world works. It's cynical to say, but who remembers Columbine now without being prompted?"
Contact Mark Emmons at 408-920-5745.