And the word "unimaginable" was used countless times. But "imagine" was exactly what the horrified audience was helpless not to do.
The screen was mostly occupied by grim or tearful faces, sparing everybody besides law enforcement officials the most chilling sight: the death scene in the school, where — as viewers were reminded over and over — the bodies remained while evidence was gathered. But who could keep from imagining it?
Ironically, perhaps the most powerful video came from 300 miles away, in Washington, where President Barack Obama delivered brief remarks about the tragedy. His somber face, the flat tone of his voice, the tears he daubed from his eyes, and his long, tormented pauses said as much as his heartfelt words. He seemed to speak for everyone who heard them.
The Associated Press was also caught in the swirl of imprecise information. When key elements of the story changed, the AP issued two advisories — one to correct that Adam Lanza, not his brother, was the gunman, and another that called into question the original report that Lanza's mother taught at the school.
But TV had hours to fill.
Children from the school were interviewed. It was a questionable decision for which the networks took heat from media critics and viewers alike. But the decision lay more in the hands of the willing parents (who were present), and there was value in hearing what these tiny witnesses had to say.
"We had to lock our doors so the animal couldn't get in," said one little boy, his words painting a haunting picture.
In the absence of hard facts, speculation was a regular fallback. Correspondents and other "experts" persisted in diagnosing the shooter, a man none of them had ever met or even heard of until hours earlier.
CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight" scored an interview with a former classmate of Lanza's — with an emphasis on "former."
"I really only knew him closely when we were very, very young, in elementary school together," she said.
Determined to unlock Lanza's personality, Morgan asked the woman if she "could have ever predicted that he would one day flip and do something as monstrous as this?"
"I don't know if I could have predicted it," she replied, struggling to give Morgan what he wanted. "I mean, there was something 'off' about him."
The larger implications of the tragedy were broached throughout the coverage — not least by Obama.
"We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics," he said, which may have gladdened proponents of stricter gun laws.
But CBS correspondent Nancy Cordes noted, "There's often an assumption that after a horrific event like this, it will spark a fierce debate on the issue. But in recent years, that hasn't been the case."
Appearing on "The O'Reilly Factor" Friday night, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera voiced his own solution.
"I want an armed cop at every school," he said.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org and at http://www.twitter.com/tvfrazier .