The news was heartbreaking. Nearly unbearable. A gunman had walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012, and killed 20 children and six staffers. When the shock and terror wore off, grief and anguish sank in. As the residents of Newtown, Conn., mourned the bright smiles and the lost futures, a nation grieved, too.
Thomas Jefferson described our inalienable rights as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness – the rights with which we are endowed, for the protection of which we have instituted governments. I do not think the composition of that foundational phrase was an accident. I do not think the order of those important words was haphazard or casual. The liberty of any person to own a military-style assault weapon and a high-capacity magazine, and keep them in their home, is SECOND to the right of my son to his life – his LIFE; to the right to live of all of those children and those teachers, to the right to the lives of your children, of you, of all of us – all of our lives – it is second.
David Wheeler, the father of Benjamin Wheeler, who was killed at Sandy Hook
Remembering the Victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre
Benjamin Wheeler, Age 6
CONCORD, Pa. - On Christmas morning Benjamin Wheeler should have been ripping open a model of the No. 7 subway train, the same one his father used to ride to work in Manhattan before Ben was born. It’s what he asked his grandfather for.
Instead, Wheeler’s family can only mourn. Ben died Friday in Newtown, Conn., a 6-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.
“Now what the hell do you do with it?” Carmen Lobis, Wheeler’s grandfather, asked pensively in his Garnet Valley home Monday afternoon, referring to the gifts that sit wrapped and ready for the holiday.
Lobis described Ben as a kid in overdrive.
“There was no dimmer switch or governor plate on this kid,” Lobis said. “He didn’t walk anywhere. He ran.”
During a recent performance, the musically inclined youth sprinted from his seat to the stage, played a beautiful piano piece, then got up and sprinted back to his seat, according to Lobis, who saw a video of the recital. Ben’s parents are both artists. His father David is an illustrator who previously worked as an actor, and his mother Francine, is a music teacher. It was Ben’s birth that prompted them to leave the city behind and find a quieter home.
They completed their move in April.
Ben’s gestures of love to his family will never be forgotten.
“He always blew us kisses and he would say ‘Catch it and put it in your heart,’” she said. “The last time I saw him was two weeks ago when I dropped him off at Sunday school.”
Ben loved bacon and eggs, and whenever he visited his grandparents in Garnet Valley, he couldn’t leave until grandma prepared his favorite breakfast.
When Carmen and Antoinette heard the news about the shooting, they packed up their car and began the trip to Newtown. Along the way, news reports started coming over the radio about the devastating losses.
“It was the longest car ride of my life,” Carmen said. Ben’s older brother, Nate, a 9-year-old who also attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, was safe, but Ben was missing. “Everyone is devastated … (His parents) are just focused on putting their lives back together.”
His grandfather talked of Ben’s potential and how he was certain his grandson would go on to do great things.
“He was so exceptional. I said to Francine that he’s going to accomplish so many things in his life. He was really going to do something special,” Carmen said. “Maybe he won’t accomplish it in life, but maybe in death he will.”