My sadness and anger over the shootings at the elementary school in Connecticut grew this afternoon when I learned that the 6-year old son of a former colleague was among the children killed in the incident. From 2000 through 2006 I worked at Carroll & Graf Publishers, part of the Avalon Publishing Group, and during that time David Cole Wheeler worked in Avalon’s art department as a designer of covers and book interiors. For much of that time, his work station was directly across from my office, and Cole–as he was then known–and I spoke often, about books, design, politics, and New York City. He was a close work friend. Occasionally, I remember seeing his wife Francine come by the office.
On September 11, 2001, Avalon’s office was in lower Manhattan only a couple blocks from the World Trade Center. Many Avalon colleagues experienced that day together–I ran from the building with a co-worker–and months of upset and distress followed, as we continued working in that stricken neighborhood. In 2002, the company moved uptown to Chelsea but all of us having been through so much together, Avalon remained a pretty tight workplace, with a lot of close work friendships. We went our separate ways when Avalon was sold to Perseus Books in 2007, but folks have tended to keep in touch. Earlier this year, several of us came together on Facebook after learning of the sudden death of our office manager, David Ortiz, who was killed in an accident in San Diego where he had moved with his wife. I really liked David, and sadly, had written a recommendation for him on LinkedIn shortly before his death. How unsettling it is to know that that is still there on line.
I’d heard that after Avalon broke up, Cole–who’d begun using his proper first name, David–and Francine had moved out of the city and moved to Connecticut. Tonight, I got a message from longtime friend and Avalon colleague, Keith Wallman. The Wheelers’ six-year old son Benjamin was among those murdered in Newtown. This sketch of Benjamin is in the Washington Post tonight:
Benjamin Wheeler, 6, was “a very spirited boy,” said Rabbi Shaul Praver of Adath Israel in Newtown. He and his parents, David and Francine Wheeler, were not members of the synagogue, but they attended its Hanukkah celebration.
“There’s always some brave individual who goes up to the dance floor to get everybody involved. That was Ben Wheeler,” he said. “Just delightful people.”
The Wheelers did not want to talk to the media Saturday, said a man who answered the phone at their home. The Episcopal bishops of Connecticut said the family were members of Trinity Episcopal Church of Newton. A volunteer there said the church lost several congregants in the shooting and the rector, the Rev. Kathie Adams-Shepherd, was ministering to them Saturday.
My deepest sympathy and condolences to David and Francine, and their older son, Nate. I’ve been thinking of them all night. They will remain in my heart.