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Queens Chronicle

Sunnyside honors Sandy Hook victim

A Queens Blvd. intersection to be renamed Benjamin Wheeler Place

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Posted: Thursday, September 5, 2013 10:30 am | Updated: 11:14 am, Thu Sep 12, 2013.

Francine and David Wheeler, the parents of one of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, will speak at the street renaming for their son Benjamin this Saturday.

The neighborhood, with the request of Congressman Joe Crowley (D-Queens, Bronx) and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), will name the corner of 41st Street and Queens Boulevard ó near the Wheelerís former home ó Benjamin Wheeler Place.

"The tragedy affected people worldwide," Van Bramer said. "Here in Sunnyside the community had a very special connection."

Wheeler, 6 at the time of the shooting, moved with his family to Newtown, Conn. when he was a baby, but still retained ties with Sunnyside.

His mother was active in the group Sunnymoms, which met in Sunnyside Gardens Park frequently.

Benjamin loved to ride the subway, particularly the No. 7. The idea of dubbing a subway station after Benjamin was floated, but ultimately scrapped because of stringent Metropolitan Transportation Authority rules, which make a name change almost impossible, Van Bramer said.

In the past Sunnyside residents have shown their support for the Wheeler family. Hundreds of residents marched from Sunnyside Reform Church to Sunnyside Gardens Park in December to memorialize the young boy. Many in attendance were elementary-school age.

A letter from his mother read at the event said though Benjamin was too young to remember living in Sunnyside, ìhe pretended to rememberî in an effort to be more like his big brother, Nate.

In addition to loving trains, Benjamin enjoyed elevators, dinosaurs and pianos. "We recently discovered he had perfect pitch," his motherís letter said.

In February the neighborhood also held a fundraiser collecting nearly $10,000 for the family.

"Those of us in Sunnyside who know and love the Wheelers are really happy Ben is being honored here, where he was born," said Roger Hitts, Sunnyside resident who helped organize the benefit. "It's really poignant  — we all believe Ben would have accomplished great things given his family's encouragement and nurturing, and seeing his name up on a street sign can continue to serve as a reminder of not only this national tragedy, but the work his parents are putting in to help prevent this kind of tragedy befalling other families."

The street renaming ceremony will take place at noon on Sept 7.

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