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Sandy Hook: Tributes to the Lost

Family, friends remember Benjamin Wheeler

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NEWTOWN, CT (WFSB) -

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where on Dec. 14, 2012, 20 children and six adults lost their lives, Eyewitness News will share a little about each person's life and how their families are honoring their legacies.

Benjamin Wheeler was born in New York City on Sept. 12, 2006, son to David Cole and Francine Wheeler. He was an adoring fan of his older brother, Nate.

The 6-year-old Benjamin had aspirations of being an architect, a paleontologist and a lighthouse keeper. Ben was bright, spirited, filled with creativity and had an excitement for life.

Benjamin loved soccer and was becoming a strong swimmer. He was eager to learn and loved going to school to see his teacher and his new first grade friends.

Just days before he died, Ben performed at a piano recital.

Ben's spirit shines on through Ben's Lighthouse, an organization created to honor the memory of him and the angels of Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"Francine Wheeler came up with the name Ben's Lighthouse, which was a perfect metaphor for what we're trying to do," said Rick Haylon, chairman of Ben's Lighthouse. "A lighthouse guides and protects, and Ben loved lighthouses."

At Ben's memorial service, the church was filled with pictures and models of his beloved lighthouses. The mission of his Lighthouse Fund is to support the children of Newtown and the surrounding areas in a safe and non-violent environment.

"We realized that there were many more than 26 families affected," Haylon said. "There were thousands of families in and around Newtown that were affected in many different ways."

"We saw immediately the need to support the children as they worked through this over the many years to come," Haylon said.

Ben's Lighthouse is committed to assisting the youth through whatever challenges the coming years may bring. There are outreach programs that empower and educate children to help others, workshops that teach coping mechanisms and events that build and strengthen the community.

"Last June 15, which was the weekend of the six-month anniversary, we introduced ourselves to the public through a free Lighthouse Festival," Haylon said.

More than 1,000 children came to the festival. Everyone was welcome to explore the beautiful, custom, 20-foot tall lighthouse in front of the Trinity Church in the center of Newtown. Family after family left their mark on the whiteboards and chalkboards.

"What was going to be a tough weekend - there were just smiles all over the place," Haylon said.

Ben's light still shines on the community. While the work of Ben's Lighthouse may never be done, it promises to always work to help each child find his or her inner light.

For more information or to register for Ben's Lighthouse, click here or call Eyewitness News at 1-866-539-9372 for a mailing address.

Copyright 2013 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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