Toys R Us murder victim Larry Wells and his daughter Madison.
HAMBURG — Matthew Chandler has written 11 children’s books, but he said none have meant more to him than his most recent publication, “Balloons for Heaven.”
His inspiration came from Larry Wells’ story: The community man who made headlines for months last year, during the case of the murder that took place at Toys R Us in Hamburg.
Chandler did not know the family, prior to the passing of Wells. However, after hearing the story and seeing the similarities between Wells and his own family, he said it “hit really close to home for me. I truly felt for the family and I wanted to do something for them.”
The book is an illustrated story that helps children learn about loss and grieving, two universal feelings of the human condition.
A friend of Chandler, who knew he was a writer, recommended that he write a book in honor of the Wells family. The premise of the book came from a story he heard from Jill Wells, Larry’s wife.
She and their daughter, Madison, who was 4 years old at the time, would write notes to Larry Wells and send them up to the sky by balloon. Paityn, their second child, was born after the murder.
“Balloons for Heaven” is a fictional book that is based on Madison’s family and her father. Some affectionate details are tucked into the pages of the book. Wells, who Chandler said was a fanatic for Ohio State University basketball, is depicted in the book in heaven as an angel wearing a sweatshirt representing the Buckeyes.
The cover of the book dedicated to the late Larry Wells and his family.
Illustrations for the book were done entirely by volunteer work from Vicky Free, a woman that Chandler had never previously met and who also had no connections to the Wells family.
Free and Chandler would correspond long-distance and she would send him the hand-drawn and watercolor illustrations. He finally met her after the entire process was finished.
“It’s amazing to see how people come together like this,” he said. “Her artwork just really brings [the story] to life,” adding that she worked off a photo of the family “so they’re actually in the book.”
For the one-year anniversary of Wells’ death, on June 29, Chandler has orchestrated a community gathering and book and balloon release. It will take place from 2-3:30 p.m. at Fireman’s Field on Lake Avenue in Blasdell. Books will be sold and 100 percent of the proceeds will be donated to the Wells’ children.
Additionally, a balloon release will take place at 3; a station will be set up for people to write a note to a lost loved one, which will then be released as a group, to fill the sky with messages.
“I’m hoping to fill the park with as many people as we can,” Chandler said. “They’re an amazing family and it’ll be a way to show something positive on what’s going to be a really tough day.”
The event will happen rain or shine; a covered pavilion will be available to house guests. Pre-order copies of the book will be available at www.balloonsforheaven.com.
“I hope everyone who reads this will consider coming out to support this family. I want them to see how much love the community has and I want them to see that on the anniversary — a day filled with so much pain — there can be so much love,” Chandler said. “We are working to make this a celebration of Larry’s life and I hope everyone can find an hour to stop by and meet Larry’s family and just show your support for them.”