Wheeler contacted some well-known attorneys seeking free help just before his suicide.
He told one attorney's answering service, “I'm a social worker and totally broke, but I'm needing some legal representation to defend myself in this case. ... I'm a 24-year veteran with DHS. Probably a third — if not a half — of my ... annual evaluations are ‘exceed standards,' but they're trying to lay this case on me.”
In a recorded message found after his suicide, Wheeler told his wife, Glinda Wheeler, “I can't believe they are giving me up,” she recalled earlier this year.
Wheeler's son-in-law, Grant Moore, told The Oklahoman on Monday, “If he had just held on and waited, everything would have worked itself out, and he would have been fine. I think that's the part that's devastating to me in particular.”
Moore also said the family was uplifted by Wheeler's exoneration.
“We knew he had done nothing wrong and was one of the good guys in this horrible case, but the thought of his family being pulled into the media frenzy pushed him to make his decision to end his life,” Moore said.
One of Wheeler's daughters, Jae Tommi Miller, said, “A child dying is every child welfare worker's worst nightmare. Workers need to be counseled and supported through the tragedy, not isolated and threatened.”
Miller, who once was a DHS child welfare worker herself, said his family's hope “is that the tragedy of his death could result in substantial changes in DHS, preventing further grief and tragedy.”
On his Facebook page, according to his family, Donald Wheeler had this quote: “Most superheroes don't have super powers. They are just regular men and women from everyday life that have a super passion and a super tenacity and are unwilling to endure the unethical and the unconscionable.”
His widow, Glinda Wheeler, said Monday, “Donald was a man of integrity and love. He believed it was always best to tell the truth in his personal and work life.”