Tag Archives: sandy hook

Sunnyside street named in honor of Sandy Hook victim


| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/ Photo by Angy Altamirano

Sandy Hook victim Benjamin Wheeler’s name will live on forever next to the No. 7 train he loved to ride and the Sunnyside street where the world got its first look at him.

Ben, 6, originally from Sunnyside, was one of the 20 children who were killed in the gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. On September 7, he was honored and celebrated during a ceremony to co-name the intersection of 41st Street and Queens Boulevard “Benjamin Wheeler Place.” Ben’s older brother, Nate, unveiled the sign.

“It’s really special that we rename this street ‘Benjamin Wheeler Place’ and the No. 7 train will go back and forth, back and forth and it will be a very beautiful thing,” said Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer. “They moved to Connecticut but the love they left behind still is so incredibly strong in the community.”

Family, friends and local officials gathered wearing green, Ben’s favorite color, at the corner of 41st Street, where he lived with his parents and brother. His parents, Francine and David, lived in Sunnyside until Ben was seven months old when they decided to move to Newtown.

“We are so incredibly grateful for the chance to thank our former Sunnyside neighbors whom we are very, very lucky enough to still call friends for their love and for their support in the months immediately following last December,” said David. “You quite literally have kept us standing.”

In honor of Ben’s love for The Beatles, Congressmember Joseph Crowley sang “Here Comes the Sun” to the family.

“Nothing more fitting that we can do [today], than honor Benjamin and the entire Wheeler family by naming the street on which he spent his first day and first months, so that we will always remember the valuable contribution that they have made and their love for Sunnyside,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris.

Francine was one of the founding member of Sunnymoms, a collective of local parents who share recipes, baby sitter recommendations and parenting tips. In February, Sunnymoms organized a fundraiser and concert for the Wheeler family to honor Ben’s memory and raise money for the family.

“Ben was six, he had just learned how to tie his shoes, that was his major accomplishment but frankly he hadn’t really perfected that either,” said David. “The sign will show us where we can eventually go as people. It is up to us to make our schools, our malls, our offices, our parks, our street corners safer for children everywhere.”

 

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U.S. Senate gun control vote disappoints New York lawmakers


| editorial@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of Governor Cuomo's Flickr

The build-up lasted a full four months.

From the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School to the State of the Union and rallies afterward, tougher laws on gun control were debated and pored over until U.S. Senators finally voted 54-46 in favor of an amendment to strengthen background checks at gun shows and online.

However, the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 needed 60 “aye” votes to pass.

In New York, many state officials were deeply disappointed when the news came out of Washington on Wednesday, April 17.

“I was embarrassed,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris. “Our New York delegation did terrific work, but I was embarrassed by the U.S. Senate. They couldn’t even do the simplest reform which itself was a far cry from what we really needed.”

City Councilmember Donovan Richards echoed the sentiment.

“It’s a crying shame. I would urge these individuals who voted down the bill to come visit the parents of the countless lives that were lost. Blood is on their hands.”

U.S. Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand voted in favor of the amendment.

Gianaris was one of the first state senators to push for tougher gun laws last year when he put forth legislation expanding background checks and banning assault rifles.

Background checks were eventually incorporated into the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act of 2013.

In January, the New York State Legislature passed the SAFE Act, which includes some of the toughest gun laws in the country. The bill initially limited magazine capacity to seven bullets, banned assault rifles and tightened background checks. Critics viewed it as a radical, knee-jerk reaction by Governor Andrew Cuomo to the Sandy Hook shooting while legislators were chastised for the rush to pass the bill.

Cuomo later backtracked on the magazine limit as a compromise to reach this year’s budget on time.

Federal background checks under the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act of 2013 would have been lighter than checks outlined in New York’s SAFE Act.

The New York bill allows mental health professionals to alert the state if a patient has the potential to be violent. If the threat is deemed viable, the state can revoke the patient’s gun license.

While New York is traditionally viewed as a liberal state, Gianaris said the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) lobby here is as prominent as in Washington. However, he said New Yorkers generally supported the SAFE Act despite the NRA presence.

Assemblymember Nily Rozic, a co-sponsor of the SAFE Act, traveled to the nation’s capital last month as part of the Assembly’s Black, Latino and Asian caucus to lobby for the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act.

She and Assembly colleagues from across the state pushed for a wide package of gun control bills, which she described as the first step in better nationwide gun laws.

Rozic said she was disappointed the Senate could not get the amendment to pass, but is hopeful looking forward.

“We had some great conversations,” she said. “I’d be happy to go back to D.C. and continue the fight.”

Richards, a proponent of gun buyback programs, said the goal is to take away criminals’ opportunities to get their hands on weapons.

“If we’re not doing what we can to ensure that these individuals don’t have gun access,” he said, “we’re doing a disservice to our children, to our community.”

All New York legislators, however, have not been in favor of the SAFE Act and gun legislation.

State Senator Greg Ball, who represents parts of Duchess and Putnam Counties, has actively opposed the bill, citing the loss of rights to people who legally purchased assault rifles.

Addressing the senate debate on the bill in January, Ball said making assault rifles illegal did not compensate for the help mentally ill people in the state really need. To make his point, he described a constituent with a bipolar, schizophrenic son who Ball said did not get proper state care.

“She fears for her life and the lives of her neighbors every day,” he told his fellow Senators. “And the mental health system in the state of New York has failed her repeatedly. It’s a kangaroo system where that child will be treated like a number, and a ticking time bomb to go off. And that single mom doesn’t have the support of the state, or that system, to care for that child.”

Instead, the Republican alleged the SAFE Act was a ploy to help Cuomo one day become president, and that it and would make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding gun owners.

Ball was not available for comment by press time.

In Richards’ southeast Queens district, gun safety is of utmost concern. He mentioned several individuals among his constituency who lost their lives due to gun violence, including his friend Darnell Patterson. Patterson was murdered in South Jamaica.

“The list goes on and on,” he said. “As government officials, we’re supposed to [...] do as much as we can to protect everyday citizens.”

-BY TERENCE M. CULLEN & MAGGIE HAYES

 

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Sunnyside fundraiser to raise money for family of Sandy Hook victim


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

File photo

Two months after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the heart of a neighborhood remains with the family of a little boy who perished in the gunfire.

A Sunnyside group is planning a fundraiser for the bereaved family of six-year-old Benjamin Wheeler, who spent his earliest days in Sunnyside, romping through nearby parks and riding the No. 7 train. Ben’s parents, Francine and David, lived in Sunnyside until Ben was seven months old, when they moved with Ben and his older brother Nate to Newtown, Connecticut. Francine was one of the founding members of Sunnymoms, a collective of local parents who share recipes, baby sitter recommendations and parenting tips. Now, along with friends from the neighborhood, Sunnymoms is organizing an event to honor Ben’s memory and raise money for the Wheeler family.

“It didn’t take long to realize there was more we could do for that family,” said family friend Roger Hitts, who is coordinating the event.

The same group held a vigil for Ben and Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung in December at Sunnyside Gardens Park, a favorite spot of Francine’s when she lived in the neighborhood.

“[The Wheelers] were so loved in this community,” said Hitts, whose daughter was a playmate of Nate and Ben. “They were such a real wonderful family who was dealt the worst hand they could think of.”

The Saturday, February 23 event, held at the Sunnyside Community Services Center, invites local families for an afternoon of face painting, balloon sculptures and snacks. Musicians will perform songs by The Beatles, Ben’s favorite band.

Hitts said the event is to remain family-oriented, adding that “there’s not going to be people making speeches on gun control.”

If you would like to make a donation, contributions can be sent to:

The Ben Wheeler Fund
c/o Newtown Savings Band
39 Main Street
Newtown, CT 06470

Donations can also be made through PayPal, via the email address benwheelerfun@yahoo.com.

 

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Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com


TODAY’S FORECAST

Monday: Overcast. High of 37 with a windchill as low as 19F. Winds from the West at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 20%. Monday night: Overcast with a chance of snow and a chance of rain, then a chance of snow after midnight. Low of 32F with a windchill as low as 25. Winds from the West at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of snow 20%.

EVENT OF THE DAY: Resorts World New Year’s Eve Bash

Ring in 2013 at Resorts World Casino’s New Year’s Eve Bash from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., where there will be live music, champagne and giveaways. Click here for more info or check out more New Year’s Eve events in Queens

Driver charged with DWI in fatal Queens crash

The driver of a car that overturned into the marshy waters near John F. Kennedy International Airport early Sunday morning, killing a 25-year-old woman, has been arrested. Read more: NBC New York

2 charged with teen’s murder in Far Rockaway

Two suspects were charged Sunday in connection with a shooting this weekend that left a 17-year-old boy dead outside a low-income housing development in Far Rockaway. Read more: CBS New York

Psychiatric test ordered for subway shove suspect

A woman accused of pushing a man to his death in front of a subway train told police she did so because she blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11 attacks, and because “I thought it would be cool,” prosecutors said at a court hearing. Read more: ABC New York/AP

President Obama’s determined to get a gun-control law in place early in his second term

President Obama called the Newtown school massacre “the worst day” of his presidency as he reiterated Sunday his determination to sign a gun-control bill into law early in his second term. Read more: New York Daily News

Hillary Clinton hospitalized after doctors discover blood clot

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was admitted to a New York hospital Sunday after the discovery of a blood clot stemming from the concussion she sustained earlier this month. Read more: AP

Fiscal cliff: Biden, McConnell make major progress

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Vice President Joe Biden made major progress toward a year-end tax bill overnight. Read more: Politico

Queens Morning Roundup


| brennison@queenscourier.com


TODAY’S FORECAST

Friday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 40. Northwest wind 13 to 15 mph. Friday night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 30. Northwest wind 5 to 9 mph becoming light north after midnight.

EVENT of the WEEKEND: Jazz Night at New York’s Legendary Metropolitan Room

The incomparable Stix Bones will be hosting two Jazz Nights during December at the renowned Metropolitan Room in NYC. Jazz Night is a seventy-five minute performance highlighting music from the forefathers of Jazz such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie, and original compositions by drummer Stix Bones. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Man dead after train push horror in Queens

A man was killed tonight after a woman pushed him into the path of an oncoming train in Queens, police sources said. The tragedy occurred at the elevated 40th Street station, near Queens Boulevard, in Sunnyside at around 8 p.m., sources added. Read more: NY Post

Sandy Hook funeral-fund scam outrages, feds charge Nouel Alba

The innocent blood spilled on the floors of a Connecticut elementary school was still warm when a Bronx woman hatched a sick scam to profit off the tragedy. Nouel Alba, 37, was busted after allegedly posing as an aunt of 6-year-old Noah Pozner — one of 20 children massacred inside Sandy Hook Elementary School — to collect money for the child’s “funeral fund,” authorities said. Read more: Daily News

Official: Endangered whale beached in Queens dead

A 60-foot whale was found dead on Thursday after getting stranded on a beach in a coastal enclave of New York City that was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy. The animal — part of an endangered species known as finback or fin whales — was severely emaciated but clinging to life when it was discovered Wednesday stranded on the bay side of Breezy Point. Volunteer firefighters sprayed water on the whale as it sat halfway out of the water. Read more: NY Post

Wednesday storm causes more issues for residents of two Jamaica homes

Wednesday’s storm caused more problems for some Jamaica residents whose homes were severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Natasha Francis and her two kids are staying with family and friends. She said Hurricane Sandy damaged her roof, and now there’s water everywhere. Read more: NY1

2 armed robbers terrorize Queens shopkeepers

Cops say two men have been very busy this holiday season from terrorizing six Queens shopkeepers. On December 5th, Nisha Sharvo was minding her business behind the back pharmacy counter of Quick Script Drugs in Hollis, when on her security monitors she watched the men hold up the front counter and order staff and customers to the floor while robbing them – all before making a beeline for Sharvo. Read more: ABC Local

 

Queens’ Morning Roundup


| ctumola@queenscourier.com


TODAY’S FORECAST

Monday: Mostly cloudy in the morning, then overcast with a chance of rain. High of 39 with a windchill as low as 25F. Winds from the North at 5 to 10 mph shifting to the ESE in the afternoon. Chance of rain 60%. Monday Night: Overcast with snow and rain, then rain after midnight. Low of 37. Winds from the SE at 5 to 10 mph shifting to the ENE after midnight. Chance of precipitation 80% .

EVENT of the DAY: Jewish/Chinese Nosh Party “Woks and Lox”

Come to the Queens Kickshaw in Astoria tonight for Woks and Lox, a Jewish/Chinese nosh party! Celebrated chef Chichi Wang takes care of the menu, but there will also be Mah Jong, a Bar Mitzvah-esque sign-in board, a Chinese auction with prizes and other forms of Jewish and Chinese-inspired fun. (Auction proceeds will go to Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence.). Starts at 8 p.m. Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Queens lifeguard who used his surfboard for dramatic rescues during killer storm tragically drowns

A 23-year-old hero lifeguard from Queens — who used his surfboard to help save six lives as superstorm Sandy raged — drowned on Sunday in a surfing accident in Puerto Rico. Read more: New York Daily News

Search continues for Queens boy missing since Friday

A missing child alert remains in effect for a 10-year-old Queens boy. Read more: CBS New York

Recent rains worsen Queens apartments’ damage from Sandy

In a duplex in Jamaica, Queens, two families are still enduring damage from Hurricane Sandy. Read more: NY1

Gun control advocates join hands across the Brooklyn Bridge

Advocates for new measures to curb gun violence after the deadly Connecticut school attack have assembled on both sides of the Brooklyn Bridge to send a picturesque message to legislators. Read more: CBS New York

Potential school bus strike threatens ‘poverty quota’

The first quota system for a public school to be approved under the Bloomberg administration is in jeopardy of falling through due to a busing-related snag, parent leaders charge. Read more: New York Daily News

Assault weapons ban talk sparks run on gun stores

The National Rifle Association may still get its way and defeat the lawmakers calling for a ban on the sale of assault ridles, but some gun store owners say it seems their customers aren’t taking any chances. Read more: ABC News

Lawmakers see ‘fiscal cliff’ deal as elusive

With anxiety rising as the country lurches towards a “fiscal cliff,” lawmakers are increasingly skeptical about a possible deal and some predict the best possibility would be a small-scale patch because time is running out before the yearend deadline.Read more: AP

 

 

 

NRA calls for all schools to be protected by armed gaurds


| brennison@queenscourier.com


The National Rifle Association announced their plans to prevent another school massacre: armed guards at every school.

The NRA made the announcement at a press conference a week after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

With President Barack Obama appointing Vice President Joe Biden to a task force with the aim to end gun violence, the NRA tasked former Congressmember Asa Hutchison to head a national effort to create a “model shield program” for all schools.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” NRA’s CEO Wayne LaPierre said.

The press conference was twice interrupted by protesters saying the NRA had blood on its hands for the mass shootings around the country before being escorted away by security.

For four days after the tragedy in Newtown the NRA remained silent before releasing a statement on the shooting.

“Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting,” the group said in a statement. “The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the NRA’s remarks a “shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country.”

“Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe,” Bloomberg said in a statement.

Queens Morning Roundup


| brennison@queenscourier.com


TODAY’S FORECAST

Friday: Rain before 10am. The rain could be heavy at times. High near 56. Breezy, with a west wind 20 to 24 mph, with gusts as high as 55 mph. Friday night: A slight chance of snow showers after midnight. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 35. West wind around 16 mph, with gusts as high as 31 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20 percent.

EVENT of the DAY: Irish Movie Night

Two Emerald Isle flicks will be screened. The Dead (1987), John Huston’s last film, is an adaptation of James Joyce’s love letter to the land of his ancestors and the country where his children grew up. Cluck (2011) is a comedy short about a feathered friend who upsets a family’s pecking order. New York Irish Center, 7:30 pm.Click here for more info or to submit an event of your own

Queens music teacher accused of sleeping with 16-year-old

A music teacher out of Jamaica was arrested for allegedly maintaining a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl. Vaughn McKinney, 58, is accused of starting a relationship with the female student when she was 16 after the two met through a Brooklyn church choir group, led by McKinney’s wife at the Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, according an Office of the Special Commissioner of Investigation (SCI) report. Read more: Queens Courier

Nation to join Connecticut in moment of silence for Sandy Hook shooting victims

People across the county will pause Friday for a moment of silence to remember the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre one week ago. Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy urged other states to honor the moment of silence at 9:30 a.m. ET, almost the exact minute that gunman Adama Lanza stormed the Newtown, Conn. school, killing 20 children and six adults. Read more: Daily News

NYers flock to ‘end of the world’-themed bashes to celebrate ‘Mayan apocalypse’

It was either a real “last call” — or just another excuse to get blotto. New Yorkers flocked to “end of the world”-themed parties at local bars last night to celebrate their potential final hours on Earth as the Mayan calendar predicted doomsday this morning. Read more: NY Post

Deli clerk killed in Queens bodega shooting

A deli clerk working alone in a Queens bodega was shot and killed last night during a brazen robbery. Cops said Ishak Ghali, 26, was shot once in the head after a lone gunman entered the All Friends Grocery & Deli on Onderdonk Avenue in Ridgewood, shortly after 6 p.m. Read more: NY Post

City housing to provide $5.6M for post-Sandy rent abatements

Some New Yorkers living in city public housing buildings will start seeing rent credits in their January bill. The New York City Housing Authority said it will provide $5.6 million in rent abatements for approximately 35,000 families affected by Hurricane Sandy. Read more: NY1

Formerly conjoined twin girls greet the public after successful separation surgery

Nine-month-old girls who were formerly conjoined twins are making their public debut at the Philadelphia hospital where they were separated. Allison June and Amelia Lee Tucker and their parents were introduced at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia on Thursday. Read more: Daily News

 

DOE reviews safety for its students


| mhayes@queenscourier.com


Now, Bristy Roy is afraid that tragedy can strike her daughter’s school too.

In the days after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, Roy, whose six year old is in kindergarten at P.S. 31, told The Courier, “Now, I’m so scared.”

In the wake of the shooting, which took the lives of 20 children and six adults in sleepy Newtown, Connecticut, city parents, school administrators and the Department of Education (DOE) are responding accordingly, and making sure that students stay safe.

“The fathers and mothers in that situation . . . I’m still crying every time I watch it on the news,” Roy said.

Schools in the area have responded to the tragedy by reviewing safety procedures with teachers, that include having teachers sign up for text alerts and executing a mandatory procedure in which any adult entering the school must show photo identification.

DOE Chancellor Dennis Walcott issued a letter to schools citywide, assuring them that safety is of the utmost concern.

“We have been in constant communication with the NYPD and their School Safety Division,” said Walcott. “I encourage you to guide your staff and students in maintaining your school’s regular schedule and continuing to be sensitive to the needs of your students as they learn more about this loss.”

Roy’s daughter has been one of the students learning more about the shooting, and innocently asked her mother what had happened.

“Five years old, six years old, that’s a baby,” said Roy, grabbing her heart. “I felt like something happened to me, because I have a child the same age.”

When Roy picked her daughter up from school Friday afternoon, she said she just hugged her as tight as she could, thankful that she was safe.

“Anyone can just walk into that school,” she said, pointing to the P.S. 31 doors. “They need to really check every single person that walks in.”

Walcott said that administrators should provide a safe place to discuss what happened for any students that wish to talk, and that guidance counselors and school psychologists should make themselves available. Resources on how to deal with the situation have also been posted on the Principals’ Portal and the Guidance and Teacher pages of the DOE website.

The DOE also requests that every school community review their visitor control procedures as well as the general response protocols, covering shelter-in, lockdowns and evacuations.

“While this tragedy occurred outside the bounds of our city, I know you share my sorrow for the students, families and colleagues affected,” said Walcott.

Enough


| qceditorial@queenscourier.com


It is time to put aside partisan politics, reach across the aisle . . . and tackle gun control.

Last Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, inside Sandy Hook Elementary, took the lives of 20 children and six adults. It should serve to galvanize pundits, politicians and the nation to embrace tougher legislation on guns.

Maybe it’s time to look at the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004 – and reinstate it.

President Bill Clinton signed into law the ban that prohibited the manufacture of 18 models of semiautomatic guns as well as magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds.

It expired in 2004 and, despite several attempts to reinstate it, our politicians foolishly let the ban go by the wayside.

Up until a few days after the shooting spree, you could purchase the Bushmaster Patrolman’s Carbine M4A3 Rifle, a military-style assault rifle, on the Walmart website.

Since then, Walmart officials have apparently thought better of it and pulled the gun from their site.

But the fact still remains: you can buy a gun at the same store you can purchase groceries, and gun violence takes the lives of 34 Americans every single day.

Now there is rhetoric from Texas Governor Rick Perry that individual school districts should have the ability to determine whether teachers and administrators carry guns.

ENOUGH!

Fighting fire with fire is not the answer.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) – suspiciously quiet in the days since Sandy Hook and whose Facebook page has been deactivated – has many politicians in its corner, thanks to campaign contributions.

On its homepage, in an article titled “More Guns, Less Crime in Virginia” and dated November 27, the author writes, “The point is, gun owners and the NRA have been right all along. It’s the criminals, not the law-abiding gun owners, who are the issue.”

Really?

To our knowledge, Adam Lanza was no criminal until the morning of December 14, when he used his mother’s own gun to execute her and the 26 other innocent victims.

In response to the massacre, former Congressmember and current MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, a self-proclaimed “conservative Republican who received the NRA’s highest ratings over four terms in Congress,” spoke out:

“Our Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military-styled high-caliber semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.It is time for Congress to put children before deadly dogmas. It’s time for politicians to start focusing more on protecting our school yards than putting together their next fundraiser. And it’s time Washington stops trying to win endless wars overseas and instead starts focusing on winning the war at home.”

We couldn’t agree more.

Obama taps Biden to head task force on gun violence


| brennison@queenscourier.com


In an effort to prevent another tragedy like last week’s massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to head a task force to develop a concrete plan no later than January to curb gun violence in the country.

“The fact that we can’t prevent every act of violence, doesn’t mean that we can’t steadily reduce the violence and prevent the very worst violence,” Obama said at the White House five days after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

The administration-wide effort led by Biden will include outside organizations and address an issue of gun control and violence that has not often been broached in Obama’s first term.

Biden’s hand in writing the now-expired 1994 bill banning assault weapons made him the right man for the job, said Obama.

The president said he wants a plan no later than January that he will “push without delay.”

“I will use all the powers of this office to help advance efforts aimed the at preventing more tragedies like this,” the president said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has long been critical of Washington’s lack of progress on gun control, said he is encouraged by the president’s statements and that it was a “step in the right direction.”

“The country needs his leadership if we are going to reduce the daily bloodshed from gun violence that we have seen for too long,” Bloomberg said. “The task force must move quickly with its work, as 34 Americans will be murdered with guns every day that passes without common sense reforms to our laws.”

Sunnyside vigil remembers Newtown victim Ben Wheeler


| aaltman@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Melissa Chan

Seventy miles from where Benjamin Wheeler was killed, mourners gathered to remember the irrepressibly spirited boy who loved The Beatles, sprinting across a soccer field and riding the No. 7 train to Sunnyside.

Hundreds cradled flickering candles as they marched from the Sunnyside Reformed Church to Sunnyside Park – the same grassy sanctuary where six years earlier, Ben’s mother Francine wept as friends gifted her a stroller at her baby shower. It was the park where Ben made his first friends and his earliest memories. Now, it was where they said goodbye.

Ben and 19 of his classmates, along with six teachers and staff members, were killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14.

Ben was born in New York City on September 12, 2006. His parents Francine and David were musicians who left busy city life to raise Ben and older brother Nate in quiet Connecticut. Singer-songwriter Francine wrote children’s music, inspired by her boys. At Ben’s vigil, family friend Roger Hitts played her song “Come Sit Beside Me” through a loudspeaker.

Come sit beside me

Hold my hand

Sing me a song

Of the things you have planned

The song, Roger said, now has new meaning.

“They are the most loving family you’d ever want to know,” said Hitts.

Although Ben was barely a year old when his family left for Connecticut, Hitts — who runs a Greenpoint children’s activity center — remembered an outgoing, energetic and sweet child, permanently attached to his big brother.

“They were leaders,” said Hitts. “Nate is a leader and Ben was a leader.”

Before leaving the house for school on Friday morning, Ben proclaimed to his mother that he was to become an architect or a paleontologist, settling on the latter. It’s what Nate wants to do, and as with most six-year-olds, he wanted to be just like his nine-year-old brother.

Ben was a member of Tiger Scout Den 6 which conducted meetings at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse. His uniform was orange and blue. He still had badges to earn.

Earlier in December, Ben performed in a piano recital, reveling in his ability to sit still through the single piece of music he was assigned to play. Not long before Ben was killed, his parents discovered he had perfect pitch.

“Benjamin began his life here in our neighborhood, in our homes and in our parks,” said Bright Owens, who belonged to a local sisterhood of mothers with Francine called Sunnymoms. “Just as we have plans and dreams for our kids, Francine and David had dreams and plans for Benny. Our hearts are heavy with unbearable grief.”

Sunnyside resident Nicole Perkins spoke of her stepsister, Dawn Hochsprung — Sandy Hook’s principal, killed while shielding students from the murderer’s bullets. Perkins said everything you read and see in the news about the fallen educator is completely true.

“She was so dedicated to her whole family and all her students and she was just really, really vivacious and loved what she did,” said Perkins. “It makes it easier to know she’s such a hero – she went out trying to save people. That’s what we should all do.”

Members of Sunnymoms read a letter written by Francine, thanking the community for their support during such a difficult time.

“In the days ahead when our community comes together to heal from this tragic event, please think of Ben with a smile as you go on with your daily lives,” the note said. “When you see dinosaur exhibits or subway trains or elevators, pianos – or anything you think a vivacious six-year-old would love, we hope he will be with you in your hearts as he continues to live in ours.”