Earlier this month, 27 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the second deadliest public school shooting in American history. Twenty of the victims were children, according to the Associated Press.
Many Tufts students from that area have been personally touched by the event, while others expressed their condolences to the families of those affected via social media.
Ethan Peritz, a senior studying psychology, babysat for one of victims. He wrote the following obituary, “Benjamin Wheeler, in memoriam,” commemorating the child’s life:
“Benjamin Wheeler, born September 12, 2006, was killed in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT on December 14, 2012.
I met Benny’s mom, Francine, during orientation at the day camp where I worked the summer before I arrived at Tufts. His mom, the music teacher, told me that her little boy would be in my group this year. I was a counselor for the youngest group of kids, aged three to four. I asked if he was three or four. She told me he was two and a half, and I stared at her as if she were joking. There is a huge difference between a three year old and a two and a half year old, mainly that one typically wears diapers and the other does not. But, she would be nearby if anything happened, and I was very excited to meet him.
I met Benny on the first day of camp that year, and I cannot even begin to describe how cute this little boy was. His mom and I were friends, so she trusted me to take care of him on a more one-to-one level throughout the day in addition to my other counselor duties. Benny was especially fond of me and my co-counselor, Lauren. We had a camper named Ethan in our group, so Benny called me “Big Ethan.” He said it like it was one word; to him, my name was “Bigethan.”
Along with Benny came his potty-training potty, which sat on the ground next to the big toilet, and which Benny never really got a hang of until the third week or so. I will forever remember Benny as the first kid I have ever potty trained, with the help of many others including, of course, Francine. I gave more high fives in celebration of pooping that summer than I did throughout my entire time at Tufts.
One great memory I have of him is when I was in the back room getting snack ready for my group. I heard a small voice outside the door near the bathrooms, but I couldn’t understand what it was saying. Then, I heard the voice get louder, and more panicked, and finally, I heard an ear-splitting scream of “POOPY!” Suddenly aware of the gravity of the situation, I dropped snack on the counter and sprinted around the corner. Benny was standing there, pants down, pointing up at a shelving unit where his potty had been stored for the night. I ran over, grabbed the potty, threw it down on the ground in the middle of the changing area, grabbed Benny, and put him on the seat. I was so proud of that guy for letting someone know instead of, well, yeah.
Benny and I were great friends all summer long, and I got to know Francine and his brother Nate, too. Francine really wanted Benny to get started on swimming lessons as soon as possible, and Lauren and I used to carry Benny through the shallow end of the pool, telling him to kick his legs. Unfortunately, Benny hated nothing more than being in the pool; his screams were heartbreaking, but Francine assured me that it would get better. It didn’t. He was miserable all the time that he was in the water.
I came back the next year to work at camp one last time. This time, I was a counselor for older boys, and I had Benny’s brother Nate in my group. My friend Betsy was Benny’s counselor in the youngest group again, and she and I would spend car rides going to and from camp sharing stories and laughing about how much we loved the Wheeler boys. Benny was still one of the youngest kids at camp, just three and a half, but he had grown up so much since I had last seen him. For one, he loved being in the pool. He learned to swim at a level much higher than the 3′s are typically capable of, and I also noticed that his brother was an excellent swimmer, as well. Benny was somewhat of a big man on campus that year, because everybody remembered him as our only two year old, and he was now old enough to soak up the spotlight and all the attention. He was a really funny kid, a true goofball, and he milked the spotlight for all it was worth.
Francine was in a bind one day and asked me to babysit her boys after camp. Benny and Nate were both so excited that I was caring for them; I have always been a Star Wars fan, which they considered the coolest thing they had ever heard. I still remember their describing the plot in the naive detail of seven- and three-year-olds. I asked them who their favorite characters were; Nate said Darth Maul, and Benny’s was Jar-Jar. Since camp, I have been watching the Wheeler boys grow up from a state away. Francine posts pictures of her boys regularly on Facebook and updates on their lives. Benny had his first sleepover this past summer.
I saw Benny through his first camp experience; even though I never returned after his second year, he kept going back. He was a beloved little boy, the son of the music counselor, who entered in diapers and left us too soon. His older brother, Nate, has had his innocence torn away from him. They were good friends, very alike in build and demeanor. A piece of Benny will live on in my pal Nate, whose shy disposition did not overcome the respect he showed for his counselor and the respect his fellow campers had for him.
So, for those of you who have read this far, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating Benny and his short but meaningful life. The summer I worked with Benny solidified my desire to continue work with children, and his senseless murder has reinvigorated me to continue serving the youth of America. This event is going to lead to some poignant debate about gun culture and violence, and this certainly gives us more to think about. None of us will ever comprehend the loss of a child, but I think we all understand the amazing show of strength that can come from tragedy. Thanks for reading, everyone, and please join me in saying thanks to Benny Wheeler.
Rest in peace, my little friend.
Junior Laina Piera, a Child Development major and Daily writer, reflected on growing up in the area and how to move on after such a tragedy.
Many people around the world have been struggling to comprehend the events that transpired on December 14th in Newtown, Conn. A tragedy like this would have been unthinkable anywhere, but as a resident of Newtown, I especially could not come to terms with the fact that this all happened just ten minutes from my house. While it’s important to always remember and pay respect to the victims of the tragedy, I think it will also be important for Newtown to put itself back on the map for reasons other than this tragedy. I have one request for anyone reading this: next time you drive through Newtown on Interstate 84 on your way between Connecticut and New York, take exit 9, 10, or 11 near the border. Have brunch at King’s, catch a movie at Edmond Town Hall, or get delicious ice cream at Ferris Acres Creamery, and you will meet the people who have made Newtown a wonderful place and will continue to make it so for years to come.
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The victims have been commemorated across the country, from candle-lit vigils to songs broadcast in remembrance. For a full list of the victims’ names, visit The Huffington Post.
If you were affected by this tragedy, Tufts Counseling and Mental Health Services are available to help. They can be contacted at 617-627-3360 and are open from 9AM to 5PM Monday through Friday. In the case of an emergency, please contact TUPD at 617-627-3030 to get in contact with the on-call counselor.
For those of you directly in the community, the Newtown Youth & Family Services has been holding emergency house and re-opens today. They can be reached at 203-270-4335. Their emergency hotline is 203-327-5437.