Last night, over a hundred Sunnyside residents gathered outside Sunnyside Reformed Church to commemorate the lives lost in the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Particularly, the group was paying tribute to the victims who had ties to the neighborhood: six-year-old Ben Wheeler lived in Sunnyside as a baby, and the step-sister of principal Dawn Hochsprung also lives in Sunnyside.
With candles lit, the crowd – which included plenty of small children – walked slowly to Sunnyside Gardens Park, where several community members spoke about the victims and their families. Ben’s mother Francine was a founding member of the close-knit neighborhood parenting group SunnyMoms before the family moved to Connecticut. She was also an active member of Sunnyside Gardens Park, where her friends fondly recall throwing her a baby shower when she was pregnant with Ben. A few of her friends spoke about the Wheeler family and read a letter from Francine.
Another speaker was Nicole Perkins-Isleib, the step-sister of Sandy Hook Elementary’s principal. She spoke about Dawn as a “vivacious” woman who cared so much about her school. Nicole is also a member of SunnyMoms.
The victims were remembered through song as well: During the vigil, a song from Francine’s children’s music album played, reminding everyone how dedicated of a parent, friend, and neighbor she was when she lived in Queens. Elementary school students from P.S. 150 sang “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen and “Silent Night.”
Throughout the event, we were all reminded of the caring community of parents and children that Sunnyside represents. At the end of the night, middle school students from I.S. 125 sang “Count On Me” – which Bruno Mars also sang on Ellen yesterday – encouraging us all to comfort each other after this tragedy, and possibly even prevent another one.