Throngs mourn for Rowan at vigil
STRUTHERS — A big smile came across Laiken Percic’s face when she recalled Rowan Sweeney’s first birthday party.
“He was doing a smash cake. It was a monster theme party,” the Struthers woman said with laughter.
A smash cake is making a miniature birthday cake for a baby or an infant, who is then encouraged to smash the cake. In Rowan’s case, his mind was on other things.
“He ate a very good portion of that cake,” Percic said, adding that she helped decorate a few days beforehand for the fun-filled occasion.
The birthday party memory was among the humorous anecdotes, stories and memories shared by some of the few hundred mourners who attended a candlelight vigil Monday evening at the Struthers Fieldhouse on Euclid Avenue for Rowan, 4, who was fatally shot just before 2 a.m. Monday inside his Perry Avenue residence.
Toward the end of the vigil, attendees cheered when they learned from Struthers police Chief Tim Roddy that a suspect, Kimonie Devante Bryant, 24, had been arrested in the case. The man surrendered to U.S. marshals around 8 p.m. Monday.
Two men and two women were injured in the early morning attack, including the boy’s mother, Alexis Schneider, 22, who was in stable condition. All four were taken to St. Elizabeth Youngstown Hospital.
Percic recalled having formed a friendship with Rowan’s mother when they were in English class at Struthers High School. She also was among those who attended Schneider’s baby shower, she added.
“She was one of my first friends to have a baby,” said Percic, who wanted the somber vigil to be a way to celebrate the boy’s life, not just mourn his death.
A handful of family members, friends and relatives spoke unprompted about their fond recollections of the boy, who would have celebrated his 5th birthday next month. They included Rowan’s distraught and tearful father, David Sweeney, who asked several times why such violence befell his beloved son.
“You never think this kind of thing could happen in your community; you read about this,” Sweeney said, later adding, “Oh, my God, he’s so innocent. We love you, buddy.”
Sweeney also said he wants people to remember Rowan as the funny and smart child he was.
One man who didn’t want his name used recalled having spent about a week with Rowan, who one morning was up by 6 a.m. and ready to have donuts, then visit a beach and swimming pool.
“He lived his life so full of joy and bliss,” the man said.
In addition, mourners remembered Rowan as being a Cleveland Browns fan who was highly intelligent and had a sense of humor. On occasion, if the boy was told he needed corrected for something, he would say “I know,” and sometimes would sport “fake tears,” one mourner said to laughter.
Many attendees left a large assortment of flowers, balloons, teddy bears, notes and stuffed animals at a makeshift memorial at the vigil as others released balloons. One person also donated a football in Rowan’s memory.