Queens residents mourn Sandy Hook victims
by Andrew Pavia
Dec 26, 2012 | 5638 views | 0 0 comments | 25 25 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Roger Hitts shares his memories of Benjamin Wheeler and his family.
Roger Hitts shares his memories of Benjamin Wheeler and his family.
slideshow
Gretchen Schmelz read a letter from Francine Wheeler, whose son was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.
Gretchen Schmelz read a letter from Francine Wheeler, whose son was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting.
slideshow
As the nation mourns for victims of the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Sunnyside residents gathered to grieve for a former resident. Although he was only a few months old when he left Queens, the neighborhood still regards six-year-old Benjamin Wheeler was still one of their own.

Benjamin was one of 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School by Adam Lanza on Friday, December 14.

Residents held a candlelight vigil at Sunnyside Gardens Park, where the Wheeler family would bring their children before they moved to Connecticut. Benjamin’s mother, Francine, was an active member of the community and took part in programs that helped benefit the park.

Many cried and became emotional as they held candles to honor the victims. During the ceremony students from P.S. 120 and I.S. 125 sang with candles in their hands and sad expressions on their faces.

Roger Hitts would often join the Wheelers in the park with his own children. He said that while we need to have a conversation on a national scale about gun control and how to treat the mentally ill, he said there is a more important point to focus on.

“We can certainly take much closer stock in the people in our lives,” he said.

Hitts said that as a community it is important to help those in need of help and not shun them. He believes that if someone paid closer attention to Lanza and his troubles, it may have prevented the shooting.

Hitts said that while his heart was heavy he could not comprehend the grief that the Wheelers were going through.

Gretchen Schmelz was a member of Sunny Moms, a social network for neighborhood moms, with Francine Wheeler. Schmelz read a letter written by Wheeler to her old community thanking them for their support. She wrote that she was honored that the Sunnyside community would hold a memorial service for Benjamin.

“Sunnyside was our first home as a family, and we will never forget the good times that we shared,” Schmelz read from the letter. “You were and still are apart of our family. Please think of Ben with a smile as you go on with your daily lives.”

Benjamin Wheeler wasn't the only one killed in the massacre with Sunnyside connections. Nicole Perkins, also a member of Summy Moms, is the stepsister of slain Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hocsprung, who was killed when she attempted to confront Lanza.

“It’s really makes it easier to know that she is such a hero,” she said at the vigil. “We should try to save people in our own little way, all the time, everyday.”

Trying to make sense of the tragic events, Perkins said that the teachers who were killed will protect and guide the students who were murdered until they are reunited with their parents. “They are there with them until their parents and families can be with them again,” she said.
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