Council Rock North coach starts memorial fund for Sandy Hook victim

Benjamin Wheeler died in the Sandy Hook tragedy. His mother's former teacher
Benjamin Wheeler died in the Sandy Hook tragedy. His mother's former teacher (organized a 5K run. Wheeler family)
Posted: January 01, 2013

After a tragedy like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, people around the world feel compelled to help. They send donations, prayers, and condolences, but often have no way of knowing whether their efforts reached the victims.

On Sunday, two Pennsylvania residents took comfort in knowing that their support had indeed reached Newtown, Conn.

Cliff Robbins, a coach at Council Rock North High School in Newtown, Pa., organized a 5K run in memory of Sandy Hook victim Benjamin Wheeler, 6, who with 19 other students and six adults was gunned down Dec. 14 in the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Benjamin's mother, Francine Lobis-Wheeler, was in Robbins' English class at Council Rock, where she graduated in 1985. Robbins, who retired in 2006, still coaches women's cross-country and track at the school.

Despite the frigid conditions and lingering snow from Saturday's storm, the race drew about 650 people on Sunday, Robbins said. Revenue and expenses were still being tallied, but he estimated the event raised about $12,000 for the Benjamin Wheeler Memorial Trust Fund.

Many of Benjamin's relatives still live in Bucks County, and his uncles Steve and Tony Lobis attended the event. Tony Lobis told 6ABC it was "very special because my sister, my brothers, and I grew up in this area, this was our school."

Robbins said he spoke briefly with Steve Lobis, now an English teacher at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, N.J. They reminisced about an afternoon when Steve had detention and they listened to the Beatles' "White Album" and talked about music.

"In a time when everybody knows there's nothing they can say or do to undo the tragedy, the outpouring of love and support is a special thing because it's a Bucks County thing," Steve Lobis told MSNBC. "It's a wonderful feeling to know that so many people are aware and care."

Meanwhile, in Northeast Philadelphia, composer and choir director Tonya Dorsey was honored to learn that a song she dedicated to the Sandy Hook victims had been received by the Catholic church in Newtown, Conn.

A link to Dorsey's song, "God's Angel" - performed by the St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church choir in Northeast Philadelphia - was posted Friday on the website of St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in the Connecticut town.

St. Rose of Lima held services for eight of the 26 children and educators killed in the rampage. The community is still recovering from the deaths, and support continues to flood in from around the world.

In addition to Dorsey's song, St. Rose of Lima has posted prayers and poems from residents of Arkansas, Missouri, Michigan, Ohio, France, and Dunblane - a town in Scotland that endured a similar tragedy in 1996, when a former scout leader killed 16 children and their teacher. After the Dunblane massacre, Britain banned handguns.

Msgr. Robert Weiss, pastor of St. Rose of Lima, said the church had been "flooded with prayers and inspirational thoughts, so it's just impossible for us to respond to all of them." His staff has chosen a few of those messages to post on their blog at www.strosechurch.com/prayers-for-newtown, in large part to let the outside world know their messages are being heard.

Dorsey's song was chosen from about 100 recordings the church has received, Weiss said. "We tried to choose one that was not going to be upsetting, but would be uplifting. So that's why hers was chosen," he said.

Uplifting was exactly the type of message Dorsey was trying to send.

"It's just a blessing to hear from them. My prayers are being answered, that it actually reached them," she said.

The song can be heard at philly.com/choirsong, which had attracted nearly 200 listeners as of Sunday morning.

Donations to the Benjamin Wheeler Memorial Trust Fund can be sent to: First National Bank of Newtown, c/o Benjamin Wheeler Memorial Trust Fund, 40 S. State St., Newtown, Pa. 18940.

Donations to all victims' families can be made at www.strosechurch.com.


Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117, jparks@philly.com, or follow @JS-Parks on Twitter.

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