Do You Have a Heart? Then Help Change Christmas for Maddie Wells By Matt Chandler

Most weeks I have the glorious luxury of using this space as my personal sounding board. I can spout off my opinions on legal issues ranging from the death penalty, to sex offender laws, from sentencing guidelines to the legal fight over casinos. My topics are almost limitless, my opinions, though frequently questionable, are never in short supply and to be honest ... it is a lot of fun.

But every now and then I like to use this forum and you, my audience, to make a difference. Whether it is promoting literacy as I did a few weeks ago, or sharing the good work of the folks at the various civil legal service organizations in our community, it is powerful to be able to reach so many of you with a positive message. And so it is with that in mind that I want to take the next several hundred words to go out on a limb, and do something I’m not sure I’ve ever done — ask for your help.

If you are a regular reader, you’ll recall my coverage of the murder of Larry Wells, the popular manager at the Hamburg Toys R Us. I first wrote a blog about the case shortly after the crime occurred and then I sat down with Larry’s widow Jill and his cousin Michelle, for what I consider to be the most important piece I have written in my five plus years here.

Just a few weeks after that story was published, police made an arrest in the case and now have another Toys R Us employee, Bernard Grucza, in custody, charged with murdering Larry.

With his guilt already assumed by many, the case is now receding into the background of media coverage, a forgotten tragedy that will only resurface if and when Grucza faces trial. But it hasn’t receded in my mind.

If you remember my coverage of the family, Larry and Jill have two children, Maddie, who is four, and daughter, who was due to be born before Christmas. You may also remember some of the similarities: The Wells’ lived in my Village, just a few streets over. My wife and I also have two small children, and were regular shoppers at the Toys R Us, located less than a mile from our home.

As Jill shared the photos of Larry and Maddie with me, I saw so much of myself with my daughter. We both loved to take our girls to Bounce Magic, we loved the parks in Blasdell and, in the strangest of coincidences, we both took our families to Myrtle Beach this spring. This came up when Jill shared a photo of the three of them at Pirates Voyage, a popular show in Myrtle Beach. We had attended the same show with our kids less than a month earlier and in the case of Larry, Jill and Maddie, he was murdered less than a month after returning from their family vacation.

All of that is to say, I have felt the pull to do more.

I can’t stop thinking about little Maddie and what it will be like to have her first Christmas without her dad. Their family is strong and Jill is surrounded by loving and supportive people, but as I imagine coming down the stairs with my own kids, making our traditional Christmas breakfast, opening presents in our pajamas, and spending the day together, it breaks my heart to imagine Maddie without her dad.

I don’t know how much she understands about what happened to Larry, but I know someday she will.

Someday she will understand the callous indifference to human life one person showed. She will understand pure evil and she will, rightfully so, wonder why someone could be so sick, cruel and inhuman.

I knew I wanted to do something for Maddie, something to bring a smile to her face this Christmas. I just wasn’t sure what. Then, I returned home last night and saw the photos on Facebook. Jill gave birth to her daughter and there was Maddie, in the hospital, beaming like the proudest big sister in the world. My heart broke all over again, and it was then I decided to use this platform, this audience, to try and make a small difference in this little girls life.

On the heels of #GivingTuesday where people were urged to contribute to a non-profit or some other worthy cause, I am asking people to consider joining me in my effort to collect toys for Maddie Wells.

We can’t change what happened and we can’t erase the pain Maddie and her family are going through. But we can show the family — and specifically this sweet little girl — that there is a lot of good in Western New York and that the good far outweighs the evil that cost her dad his life. We can do our part to make her Christmas morning a little more bright.

So I am collecting toys for Maddie. I’ve not talked with her family about this, because I want it to be a surprise for her, but having had my own four-year-old girl not long ago, I’m guessing dolls, princess things, art supplies and games would work. My goal is to collect the donations and deliver everything to Maddie’s family on December 23. If you feel inclined to join me in this effort, you can call or email me anytime and I would be happy to come to you and pick up any donation or, if you prefer, you can drop them off at my office.

I know this time of year there are many long-established, worthwhile charities to contribute to (I contribute to several of them myself) but if you would like to join me in showering Maddie with some love this Christmas, I welcome you. Together, we can make a difference in the life of this little girl. I don’t know about you, but as for me, I can’t think of a better way to celebrate this holiday season.

I can be reached via or 716.541.1654 (office) 716.390.9203 (cell).


This article was first published on Buffalo Business First blog

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