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Rallying around Rowan

Support abounds for 4-year-old shooting victim

Kevin Williamson drills a hole in a wooden letter to hang on a placard to spell out “Justice For Rowan” on the Lowellville Road bridge Thursday. Next to Williamson, his son Kendall gets ready to weave wire to secure the wood. Rowan Sweeney, 4, was killed in a shooting Monday in Struthers. Staff photo / Ashley Fox

STRUTHERS — In the days following the shooting death of 4-year-old Rowan Sweeney on Monday morning, community, friends and family have come together to find ways to remember the boy.

Driving around Struthers, utility poles are wrapped in red, and at night, porch lights and lamp posts give off a red light.

The bridge on Lowellville Road next to the Yellow Creek Park entrance is decorated by community members. Struthers Mayor Catherine Cercone Miller said Thursday that community members have been contacting her office, willing to donate time and materials to various efforts.

Miller said local laborers and businesses — offering free services — are contacting her regarding a memorial park for Rowan that is in the beginning stages of development. The mayor said that while details are not solidified, the city will work with the family as the project comes to fruition.

“We have a lot of union members saying ‘My entire union will donate time to make sure this happen,'” she said. “I have people reaching out to the city saying they want to be a part of this.”

People have messaged Miller, largely asking if memorials around the city are allowed, she said.

“People are coming up with all these ideas and they’re using our office” for guidance, to which Miller said: “Why not?”

The support is part of what makes Struthers special, she said.

“This is how Struthers is. This is how we’ve always been,” Miller said, regarding the support of the community. “This is what our community does. This is one of the things that makes Struthers so special, is our response to helping people and helping … our family.”

“Any support we can approve, we will,” Miller added.

BRIDGE LETTERS

On Thursday, a small group of people hung red letters on either side of the Lowellville Road bridge in Struthers, spelling “Rowan” and “Justice for Rowan.”

Among those working were Kevin Williamson and his son, Kendall Williamson, Rowan’s future step-grandfather and future step-uncle.

“The reason we’re out here today is obviously justice for Rowan,” Kendall said.

Noting that law enforcement is working to find a motive for the shooting, which occured around 2 a.m. Monday at 111 Perry St., Kendall said “we’re looking for justice in a little bit different way.”

Referring to the planned memorial park, Kendall said:”I think Rowan’s justice is to see something like that. Rowan’s justice is to see kids smile.”

Describing Rowan as “a happy kid,” the Williamsons said the boy emulated his father, David Sweeney.

“He just adored his father. He just absolutely worshipped his dad. Just wanted so much to be like his dad,” Kevin said.

“Everything football (Rowan) loved, because that’s what his dad loves,” he said.

In addition to his parents and family, Rowan also leaves future stepmother Bailey, and a little sister, Kevin said, who he adored. “He would caress her arm… It was the cutest thing ever,” Kevin said.

In addition to public displays of support for Rowan, monetary donations have been made as well.

Two pages on the crowdsourcing website GoFundMe.com have been established: Rowan’s memorial services and associated costs, and Support and Healing for Lexie Schneider, his mom, who also was injured.

Kendall said those two fundraisers, which he said are legitimate, will benefit Rowan’s parents.

For Rowan’s memorial, nearly $12,000 had been raised as of Thursday afternoon, against a goal of $5,000. The page explains that donations will go toward funeral and memorial costs. Kendall also confirmed that David and Bailey intend for leftover donations to go toward the memorial park that will be located in Struthers.

The Healing gofundme has generated $8,882 against a goal of $5,000, and is explained to go toward medical and living costs of Schneider, who was wounded in the shooting, as well as funeral arrangements.

COMMISSIONERS REACT

Meanwhile, at Thursday’s Mahoning County commissioners meeting, all three commissioners expressed their sadness over the child’s death.

“My heart goes out to the loss of that beautiful, little child who was killed unmercifully, senseless killing,” Commissioner Anthony Traficanti said.

“I just don’t know what gets into somebody’s head to do that,” he said. “And I don’t believe there is a harsher sentence that could exist for a crime committed in that fashion. It has a whole community upset.”

Commissioner David Ditzler added, “It’s just so senseless and really brings you back down to make you appreciate and realize what’s important in life. You see this young child and his smiling face and his photos, and it breaks your heart.”

afox@tribtoday.com

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