Sailboat Named after Sandy Hook Shooting Victims Christened in Woodbridge
WOODBIRDGE, Va. — The memories of two small boys killed eight months ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut will continue to sail on the waters of the Potomac River.
A Catalina 22 sailboat bearing the name “Benjamin Chase,” named after Benjamin Wheeler, 6, and Chase Kowalski, 7, both killed in a mass shooting inside their elementary school in Newtown, Conn. that took the lives of 26 people in December, now sails the Potomac River.
At the helm will be the Sea Scouts Ship 100 crew from Gainesville, a group of co-ed scouts which chose the name for the newly donated boat.
“This is no rotten boat. She is solid, she is complete and, as always, our attention turned to the name [of the boat],” said Sea Scouts 100 Skipper Todd Skiles. “…Then word came back that there had been another tragedy at another school with another long list of victims.”
Both and Benjamin and Chase were members of Cub Scout Pack 170 in Newtown, Conn., which is reserved for children in the First Grade. When the Boy Scouts of America, parent organization of the Cub Scouts, released a photo of two cub scout hats with rest in peace and the boys names’ written underneath, Skiles said the image “hit hard.”
“We will parade their names up and down the Potomac, past monuments and memorials, past the great houses of our founding fathers at Gunston Hall and Mount Vernon…we remember their names…” said Skiles.
The tearful tribute was held at Leesylvania State Park at 5 p.m. as the mothers of the two late Cub Scouts, Rebecca Kowalski and Francine Wheeler, looked on. Both said the christening ceremony “was more than they expected.”
After Skiles sprinkled holy water on the Benjamin Chase, the mothers and family members boarded the vessel, which then left dock and set out on the Potomac River where the petals of 26 roses were placed into the river in memory of the shooting victims. A Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Boat then sprayed its water hoses in tribute to the victims.
Boy Scout Pack 170 Master John Gonski, of Newtown, Conn., mentored Benjamin and Chase, and said the boys touched many lives during their short time on earth.
“They were so vibrant, and they were good guys,” said. “The community was so supportive when we told them we were coming to Virginia to dedicate the boat in their honor.”
In addition to Benjamin and Chase, three other children who were siblings of Cub Scouts of Pack 170 were also killed in the shooting.
Peter Barresi, a Boy Scout leader from Pack 170 who brought his 6-year-old son Wyatt to the boat christening, said things in Newtown have yet to get back to normal eight months after the shootings.
“Some of the children regress so much they once were afraid of the dark, but now they seek out the dark to hide for safety,” said Barresi.
Both men said the media attention that quickly descended on Newtown following the shootings hasn’t gone away.
“If there is a public meeting having anything to do with the schools, if they are going to pass a new rule, the reporters are there in droves,” added Barresi.
Sea Scout Ship 100, which takes its name from being the 100th charted group in the national Sea Scout organization, will use the newly christened Benjamin Chase to qualify the sailing skills of their members. The boat was repainted navy blue to match the colors of the Sea Scouts and it will be stored in at the Fort Washington Marina in Maryland at no charge.