Sunnyside Mourns Conn. Shooting
By STEVEN J. FERRARI
|Students from Sunnyside marched from Sunnyside Reform Church to a vigil at Sunnyside Gardens Park holding pictures of Benjamin Wheeler, who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Photo by Ira Cohen
Just days after the shooting in Newtown, Conn., that took the lives of 20 schoolchildren and six adults, family and friends of two of the victims gathered in Sunnyside. Fighting back tears, more than 100 people held a vigil in Sunnyside Gardens Park Tuesday night to honor the victims.
The vigil was organized by Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). Before the event in the park, a mixture of kids and adults marched to the park from Sunnyside Reform Church.
Members of Sunnymoms, a group of mothers from Sunnyside, recalled their interactions with Francine Wheeler, a founder of the group whose family moved to Newtown from Sunnyside. Wheeler’s son, Benjamin, was one of the victims in the attack.
“You never know exactly what to do or say in a situation like this,” Bright Owens, a member of Sunnymoms, said. “But we do know how to show up and support each other.”
Roger Hitts, a friend of the Wheeler family whose daughter used to play with Benjamin’s older brother, expressed his sadness at the loss.
“We’re shocked, we’re saddened, we’re devastated and we’re really angry,” he said.
Both Hits and Owen recalled the times Francine spent in Sunnyside Gardens Park watching their children play together. Shortly before she gave birth to Benjamin, the members of Sunnymoms threw Francine a surprise baby shower where they gave her a two-seat stroller.
Members of the group read a letter from Francine, who thanked the Sunnyside community for their kindness, noting that she would never forget the baby shower or the friends she made there.
“There are no words to express our gratitude,” the letter read. “Sunnyside was our first home as a family.”
Sunnyside resident Nicole Perkins-Isleib, the stepsister of Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochspring, also spoke at the vigil, remembering Hochspring as a dedicated parent and educator who loved her job as a principal.
Perkins-Isleib said that hearing how Hochspring tried to help the children at the school made the news easier to bear.
“I hope you can take this opportunity over the holidays to love your family and your kids,” she said.
Reach Managing Editor Steven J. Ferrari at (718) 357-7400 Ext. 122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.