In a message traditionally reserved for the president, Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son Ben was among the 20 students and six educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary last year, delivered the White House’s weekly address today, urging the country to come together to support measures that proponents say will alleviate gun violence.
“As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not the president. I’m just a citizen. And as a citizen, I’m here at the White House today because I want to make a difference,” Wheeler said. ”I’ve heard people say that the tidal wave of anguish our country felt on 12/14 has receded. But not for us. To us, it feels as if it happened just yesterday.
“And in the four months since we lost our loved ones, thousands of other Americans have died at the end of a gun. Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief. Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.
“We have to convince the Senate to come together and pass commonsense gun responsibility reforms that will make our communities safer and prevent more tragedies like the one we never thought would happen to us,” she said. “Help this be the moment when real change begins. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”
Wheeler, who was accompanied by her husband, David, in the address, shared memories of her young son less than four months after he was killed.
“Ben’s love of fun and his excitement at the wonders of life were unmatched His boundless energy kept him running across the soccer field long after the game was over. He couldn’t wait to get to school every morning. He sang with perfect pitch and had just played at his third piano recital. Irrepressibly bright and spirited, Ben experienced life at full tilt,” she said.
“Sometimes, I close my eyes and all I can remember is that awful day waiting at the Sandy Hook Volunteer Firehouse for the boy who would never come home – the same firehouse that was home to Ben’s Tiger Scout Den 6. But other times, I feel Ben’s presence filling me with courage for what I have to do – for him and all the others taken from us so violently and too soon,” Wheeler said.
After President Obama delivered a speech on gun violence in Connecticut Monday, the Wheelers were among the 11 families who traveled with the president on Air Force One to lobby members of Congress in Washington.
“When I packed for Washington on Monday, it looked like the Senate might not act at all. Then, after the president spoke in Hartford, and a dozen of us met with Senators to share our stories, more than two-thirds of the Senate voted to move forward,” Wheeler said. “But that’s only the start. They haven’t yet passed any bills that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. And a lot of people are fighting to make sure they never do. Now is the time to act. Please join us.”
Earlier this week, ABC News’ Jeff Zeleny caught up with the Wheelers as they knocked door to door on Capitol Hill, lobbying members of Congress to vote in favor of gun control measures earlier this week.
“We represent Ben’s life and that’s why I’m here,” Francine Wheeler told Zeleny.
“This is the event that defines us in many ways. And I’m not going to hide from that,” David Wheeler said.
The president tweeted out a message Friday urging Americans to listen to the Newtown mother’s message.
“Francine Wheeler, a Newtown mom, will take my place in tomorrow’s Weekly Address. It’s a message everyone should hear: #NowIsTheTime. -bo,” the president tweeted from the White House account. The signature “-bo” indicates the tweet was written and sent from the president himself.
Wheeler is the first civilian to deliver the White House’s weekly address. Vice President Joe Biden gave the weekly address on the economy in November 2011 while the president was overseas at a summit. First lady Laura Bush delivered the address at least twice, once on the fate of women in Afghanistan under Taliban control in 2001 and another time regarding Burma in January 2008.