Every year tens of thousands of family members lose loved ones to gun violence. A number of them find the courage to speak very articulately about their loss but none are more eloquent than David Cole Wheeler. David’s son, Benjamin Andrew Wheeler, was one of twenty first-graders murdered on December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Along with the six dedicated educators this was the worst grade-school mass shooting in American history.
David’s gift is his willingness to share his journey of grief and his effort to make sense of a tragedy that by all measures seems senseless; only through understanding is it possible to find solutions that will help make our communities safer. Together with moving accounts of his personal experience, David’s talk offers a sharp and thoughtful analysis, helping his audience to pull back the frame and see how cultural and societal change must be the driving force to protect future generations of children from the threat of gun violence.
David is not new to the stage; he worked for twenty years in New York City as an actor in theater, film and television. When it was time for a career better suited for supporting a family, David found another creative pursuit in design and illustration. He now works in publishing, particularly gift publishing, package design and illustration.
Raised in New Hampshire, David returned to New England in 2007 with his wife Francine and sons Nate and Ben, drawn to Sandy Hook, Connecticut because of its strong sense of community spirit, cultural appreciation and good schools. Their bucolic existence was shattered forever on December 14th. Adding to the anguish of losing Ben, Nate Wheeler, then in the fourth grade, was at Sandy Hook Elementary that day and experienced the terror firsthand.
Not content to let Ben’s death fade in public memory without sparking much needed cultural and behavioral changes, David is devoting himself to several efforts over and above public speaking and media interviews. In addition to his involvement with Sandy Hook Promise, a national organization started in Newtown after the tragedy, David and his wife are advisors to Ben’s Lighthouse, an organization created by Trinity Episcopal Church, which the Wheelers attend. The mission of Ben’s Lighthouse is to support, uplift and nurture the children of Newtown in a non-violent and caring environment through group activities and community service.
After testifying before the Connecticut State Legislature’s Bipartisan Task Force on Gun Violence, testimony that was highlighted on MSNBC’s The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, David, together with his wife Francine, have been featured having honest and candid conversations with Rachel Maddow on The Rachel Maddow Show and Bill Moyers on Moyers and Company. Earlier this year they had a conversation with Oprah Winfrey, resulting in a profile piece in the December 2013 issue and an episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, airing on November 24th, 2013 on the Oprah Winfrey Network.
David was recently included in articles published in The New York Times and New York Magazine, and in June of 2014 he addressed the United Nations Fifth Biennial Meeting of States on behalf of the International Action Network on Small Arms in support of their Programme of Action.
“We received wonderful comments and feedback…Many commented on how moved and inspired they were by the candor and depth of thought provided by you David. Many on our Board were also most impressed by your presentation among them all.” — Robert C. Nelson, Psy.D., President – South Carolina Psychological Association
“David Cole Wheeler’s dynamic, powerful, and heartfelt presentation to the Pine Brook Jewish Center on Sunday evening, November 1st, reached and touched the hearts and souls of all who had the opportunity to hear him speak. David took us on a journey of the devastating loss he and his family and so many others suffered on December 14th, 2012, while at the same time guiding us to understand the part we play in making changes, both cultural and societal, to protect our children. There were tears and smiles as we listened to his inspirational words and every person there gained a clearer understanding of how to make our own community a better place by becoming more aware of the need for mental health advocacy and recognizing and helping those who are suffering from brain illness. Our hearts were full and our lives were touched as we walked away with a wealth of knowledge and a realization that WE, each and every one of us, is responsible for changing the world, one small step at a time.” — Judy Gothelf – Pine Brook Jewish Center
“Profound and intriguing speaker David Wheeler visited Kutztown University on Tuesday March 24th at 7PM and delivered an eye-opening and heartfelt presentation on how to make communities safer. David Wheeler was able to lead everyone on a journey full of grief, loss, hope, and resiliency in the face of tragedy to reach an understanding of the need for mental health advocacy and treatment for those suffering in the community from mental illness. While his speech went on, you could see the vibe in the crowd and how intense the emotion was. David has shown the students and the community of Kutztown a new way to look at things and to open their eyes to the consciousness of our society.” — Petritsa Chatzitziva, Assistant Director of Office of Student Involvement – Kutztown University
“David’s moving and inspirational talk captivated the packed room at UNH. The talk went way beyond Sandy Hook and taught everyone how important it is to have a strong community that takes care of one another and is able to be open and honest in order to create positive change. David connected with the audience like no other, being raw, real, and transparent that brought a standing ovation. That kind of reception is a rarity at our lectures. THANK YOU!” — Assistant Director, Memorial Union – University of New Hampshire
“It’s been several days, and students are still talking about David Wheeler’s time here Monday evening. What an amazingly powerful, thought provoking presentation. It’s almost impossible to comprehend the heartbreak he and his family (and so many others) endured, and what is even more impossible to imagine is how through that, he was able to sift through the complex issues surrounding this incident and come up with a presentation like this. Any time you attend an event like this and find yourself saying, at least three times “Wow, I never thought about it like that,” you know it’s going to stick with you for a very long time. ” — Director of Student Affairs, Clarion University – Venango College
“David Wheeler’s presentation is poignant, powerful, and deliberated. Every college student who hopes to make the world a better place needs to hear his story” — Chaplain – Limestone College