It has been almost one year since a tragedy occurred at a Toys R Us store in Hamburg, N.Y. In the wee hours of the morning on June 29th, 2013, an intruder entered the toy store, armed with a knife, and made his way to the manager’s office inside the location. It was there that this intruder disabled the surveillance equipment and ended up coming into contact with Larry Wells, the manager that was on duty at the time. Wells was tragically murdered that morning because of the events that unfolded during this encounter. Larry Wells left behind plenty of family and friends, a daughter, Madison, that he adored, and his loving wife, Jill, who was pregnant with their second child.
The tragedy that occurred inside that Toys R Us location almost one year ago affected not only a beautiful family but also an entire community. This story was an emotional one. Your heart just simply broke when you heard about what this family was going through all because Wells was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Larry Wells is described openly by his wife Jill as being “amazing”. The two met when they were fifteen and remained a couple from that point on, marrying years later and starting their family together. So many people could relate to their love story and their growing family. It seemed wrong for this man to be taken away from the people he loved and the people who loved him so dearly. Larry loved spending time with his daughter, Maddie, and was thrilled about the arrival of his second child. Paityn Wells was born in December of 2013, months after her father Larry was tragically killed. Jill Wells rightfully describes the tragic event as being “So unfair.”
Larry Wells has been described by many as being a caring individual who always went that extra mile to help someone in need. Pamela Zylinski, a supervisor at the Toys R Us where Larry Wells was killed describes Larry as someone who took a “genuine interest in your hopes, your family, your goals and your life.” Zylinski reflects on Larry as being someone that was like family and was always smiling and happy. One of Zylinski’s most fond memories of Wells is him giving her a hug on a bad day and telling her “It’s okay, we’re family, that’s what we do”. This is a memory that Zylinski will always carry with her to remember Larry Wells.
Local author and writer, Matt Chandler, covered a number of articles locally regarding the Toys R Us tragedy that occurred last June. He got to know the Wells family personally and even organized a toy drive of sorts to provide Maddie with extra Christmas gifts for the first Christmas that she would spend without her father. The local Buffalo community stepped up as usual, helping to make Christmas special for the Wells family. Chandler wasn’t done helping just yet. A suggestion from one of Chandler’s friends helped him create the concept of Balloons For Heaven; a children’s book that not only helps children understand death a little bit better but also helps pay tribute to Larry Wells and his legacy.
Balloons For Heaven, written by Matt Chandler and illustrated by Vicky Free, begins with a little girl named Chloe. Chloe is quite sad because she is being faced with having to say goodbye to her pet hamster, Mr. Wiggles. Her parents explain to her the process of death and how Mr. Wiggles will be enjoying a new and healthy life in heaven. Chloe’s Dad comes up with a way for her to talk to Mr. Wiggles even when he is gone. Chloe writes Mr. Wiggles notes and sends them up high into the sky on a helium filled balloon.
Chloe’s friend Maddie is introduced next in Balloons For Heaven. Maddie’s Dad was at work at a toy store very early one morning getting all the toys in the store ready for the boys and girls who would come shopping that day. Something tragic happened and Maddie’s Dad was taken to the hospital where unfortunately, the doctors there were unable to help him. Maddie misses her father but recalls her friend Chloe sending balloons with messages tied to them up to her beloved hamster. Maddie and her Mom do the same, sending loving messages up to heaven for Maddie’s Dad.
The story itself is very touching. What makes it even more of an amazing story is that Maddie Wells and her Mom, Jill, do this exact activity in real life to help Maddie deal with the loss of her father. Since the death of Larry Wells, Maddie has been writing to her father and sending up balloons to heaven. While nothing will bring Wells back to his family where he belongs, this way of communicating with him gives his daughter and family peace and comfort.
I had the privilege of speaking with Chandler regarding his current book release. Chandler has authored nine other books but this was the first time he took a true story and turned it into a children’s story. He hopes to include the Wells family in other future releases stating: “anything I can do to bring a smile to the faces of Larry’s family after all they have been through, is the least I can do.”
Chandler is constantly impressed by the strength of the Wells family, especially with all they have been through in the past year. “I am in awe of the strength of this family. I truly don’t know how Jill was able to pick up the pieces and continue to not only raise their daughter, but to give birth to their second child just months after Larry was murdered. I think it is a testament not only to her inner strength, but to the strong family she is surrounded by,” says Chandler.
Jill Wells manages to smile through her grief in order to properly raise her daughters, now as a single mom. The family is excited and supportive of the Balloons For Heaven project as well as the memorial event. Matt Chandler feels that the Wells family likely sees this book as “just another way to make sure that Larry is never forgotten. By all accounts he was an amazing husband, father, son, co-worker and friend and the family doesn’t want him to become just another nameless victim of violence.”
The official release of Balloons For Heaven is set for Sunday, June 29th, 2014. This day will mark one year since the death of Larry Wells. Family, friends and members of the community are all welcome at Fireman’s Park on Lake Avenue in Blasdell, N.Y. to celebrate Larry’s life. Everyone attending is encouraged to share their stories, photographs and memories of Larry at this event to help celebrate who Larry was and remember him and his spirit. Activities are planned for throughout the day and a balloon station will be set up for people to write messages to Larry or loved ones that they have lost. All of the balloons will be released together at 3 P.M. Chandler encourages everyone to “purchase a copy of this book and support this amazing family that has been through so much in the last year.” Presale copies can be purchased by visiting http://www.balloonsforheaven.com/. All profits go to Maddie and Paityn Wells.