Rowan remembered at vigil in Struthers
STRUTHERS — Samijo Kozak fondly remembers Rowan Sweeney’s typical routine when he arrived at school each morning, with book bag in tow: He often greeted the older children, was quick to laugh and, later in the school day, went out of his way to ensure his classmates felt included in his activities.
“He was the sweetest kid, ever,” said an emotional Kozak, who was one of Rowan’s teachers at Sunshine and Lollipops Daycare and Learning Center.
Rowan, who was enrolled there in mid-June 2020 for a summer preschool program, also was determined to learn to write his name, Kozak recalled.
Those were among the memories and stories spoken and shared during a candlelight vigil Wednesday evening at Struthers Parkside Church, 110 Poland Ave., to honor and remember Rowan, 4, who was shot to death around 2 a.m. Sept. 21, 2020, in a Perry Street residence.
The day care facility is in the church. The somber gathering also marked the two-year anniversary of the tragedy.
“You never get over it. You get used to days without him, and you look back at the memories,” Rowan’s father, David Sweeney, said. “There’s no way to heal fully; you learn to live with it.”
Brandon Crump Jr., 19, and Kimonie Bryant, 26, have been charged with aggravated murder in the case. In a recent development, Bryant and his attorneys learned that it will take at least two months for DNA test results to be available, which authorities say will tell them which of the two men fired the weapon, killing Rowan.
In another recent twist, Yarnell C. Green, who was the boyfriend of Rowan’s mother, Alexis Schneider, was shot to death early Sunday morning outside of a downtown Youngstown restaurant. Green had identified a gunman in Rowan’s death during a recent court appearance.
Sweeney told a crowd of about 100 family members, friends and others he’s dealing with his grief via doing whatever possible to keep his son’s spirit and legacy alive — especially by establishing the Rowan Sweeney Memorial Park to be in Boardman Park.
About $110,000 of the estimated $500,000 cost has been raised, but donations continue to be welcome, he said. They can be made at any Huntington Bank branch or by visiting www.rowansmemorialpark.com
Also happy to donate to the effort was Jeff Vrabel Jr. of Sons of the American Legion Mahoning Valley Squadron 15 of Poland, which raised about $1,500.
“I told him, anything he needs,” Vrabel said about Sweeney. “Between myself and the Post 15 family, we’ve got his back.”
Sweeney also has the support of people such as D.C. Henderson of Girard, a community activist who said he knows other parents who have lost children and wanted to offer moral support to Rowan’s father.
“This was an innocent baby that lost his life,” Henderson said while urging parents to take further steps to protect their children.
A tearful Bailey Williamson, who is Sweeney’s fiancee, remembered Rowan as a child full of life, kindness and occasional silliness. He also was quick to help others in need, she recalled.
“He made me who I am today,” Williamson said, adding that in the two years she had known the child, he helped her become more level-headed and further see why it’s important to “live life one step at a time.”
A few others made remarks about their recollections of Rowan but were overcome with emotion.