(The following, a few thoughts on the one-year anniversary of the murder of Rowan Ford, is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
Justice does not appear to be coming anytime in the near future for those who loved nine-year-old Rowan Ford of Stella.
In a Pulaski County courtroom Monday, a judge set a March 2010 trial for Chris Collings, Wheaton, one of the two men charged with her brutal rape and murder.
The delay in justice was ironic since the judge's decision came on a day which marked the first anniversary of the Triway Elementary student's murder.
Collings, you may remember, is or was a friend of Rowan Ford's stepfather, David Wesley Spears, Stella, the other man accused of her rape and murder. Collings was the one with the MySpace site that proclaimed his mood as "horny" on Nov. 2, 2007.
For months, that MySpace page, which also featured a background of demons carrying skulls, remained open to the public, a mockery to the memory of Rowan Ford. Fortunately, thanks to the actions of Attorney General (now governor-elect) Jay Nixon, that page has been removed forever.
Justice for Collings and Spears, both of whom made statements to law enforcement indicating they had committed the crimes, will be a long way off both in time and distance.
Both men received changes of venue due to the incredible amount of pre-trial publicity, with one case moved to Pulaski County and the other to Phelps County. The Barry County prosecuting attorney is seeking the death penalty for both men.
When a person as young as Rowan Ford is murdered, it strips away the innocence of any town, the idea that something like this happens somewhere else, not here. Stella has still not recovered from that ordeal though a year has passed. An event this horrific is something from which a community never truly recovers.
The same thing happened in 1993 in Carthage when eight-year-old Douglas Ryan Ringler was raped and murdered by Terry Cupp, Diamond, a family friend. In that case, Cupp opted for a plea bargain rather than face the death penalty, and he still remains in prison without possibility of parole.
Though a decade and a half has passed, Doug Ringler's murder still haunts Carthage, as I suspect Rowan Ford's will continue to cast a pall over Stella.
Both Carthage and Stella made efforts to commemorate the lives, not the deaths, of these children who were taken far too young. In Carthage, Doug Ringler's former classmates at Hawthorne Elementary School worked to put a bench in Doug's honor at the school. When the school closed and was later torn down, that bench was moved to a children's garden at the Carthage Public Library, where it stands only a few feet from Carthage artist's Bill Snow's sculpture of Alice in Wonderland.
At Stella, the newly dedicated veterans' park includes a tribute to only one person who is not a veteran, Rowan Ford.
The students at Triway will likely remember Rowan Ford the same way the Hawthorne Elementary students remember Doug Ringler. When her birthday passes, they will wonder what she might have become, what a life she may have had.
But the picture that will remain in focus, is the Rowan Ford who will remain forever nine years old.