North Shore diver heads to Conn. after nephew killed in shooting

Published: Dec. 16, 2012 at 10:25 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 16, 2012 at 11:18 PM HST
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KAHUKU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Andrew Wheeler is known as "Scuba Drew" on Oahu's North Shore, where he is a scuba dive instructor and underwater videographer. He spent Sunday packing a bag to head to Connecticut after learning that his six-year-old nephew, Benjamin Andrew Wheeler, was among those who died in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

"He's a little bit like me," said Wheeler. "I think of the three brothers: I'm the one that ended up with more broken bones, and Ben seemed to be following in those footsteps."

Wheeler became very concerned when he heard the news that the shooting had occurred at Sandy Hook because Ben and his older brother are students there. He said his brother texted him, telling him that the brother was okay, but that they hadn't heard about Ben.

"The hardest part came as it got longer in the day, we heard nothing. And when we saw the reports coming out that all the kids that were at the fire station had been reunited with their parents, and I still hadn't heard anything. And I really started to get a sinking feeling," Wheeler said.

The dreaded call came Friday night. "At about 9:47 my time here, which is about 2:30, 2:40 in the morning Connecticut time, my brother finally called me. State troopers had confirmed that, in fact, his son Ben was one of the casualties," said Wheeler.

"It's hard to describe what I felt at the moment we were told," said Wheeler. "Just heartbreak. Anger. Everything."

Even though they were on opposite sides of the country, Wheeler had stayed in touch with his brother's family -- and Ben -- often through Skype.

Wheeler also said he had lost faith in humanity in the house immediately after the shooting. However, his friends and many others helped restore that faith. "I woke up this morning and the social network community had basically set up donation funds and contributions," he said. "And the funds are coming in to help my brother with what he's going through."

Some friends had originally started a fund to help Wheeler get plane tickets to the mainland, since Wheeler hasn't been able to work since sustaining a shoulder injury a few months ago. However, he said American Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines had offered him tickets to fly to and from Newtown.

Wheeler's deepest emotions and anger come when it comes to how his nephew died. He said the death reinforced his belief that there should be some kind of gun control.

"Anyone that dares to stand in front of me right now and tell me that their right to own a gun is more important than the right of my nephew to live and go to school without being shot? That person's not going to get a lot of sympathy from me right now," said Wheeler, his anger mixed with tears.

For Wheeler, the ultimate tragedy is that a little boy's future is gone.

"It's just really, really hard to think about what he could have become. What things he could have contributed to this world that he won't be able to do now."

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.