In a perfect world, Rowan Ford would be halfway through her sixth grade year at Triway Junior High School in Stella, Missouri.
The biggest trials for Rowan would already be completed- adjusting to the change from the one-teacher existence of elementary school to having different teachers every hour and learning how to deal with the eighth graders who rule the school.
Like all junior high or middle school students, Rowan would be worried about just where and how she fits in.
Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.
Rowan Ford never had the chance to experience middle school, and will never experience first love, graduation, marriage, children, or any of the other parts of life that most of us take for granted.
On Nov. 3, 2007, Rowan, a nine-year-old fourth grader was brutally raped and murdered- and nearly two and a half years later the two men who were arrested later that week for the crimes are still awaiting trial.
Rowan Ford was one of those children who slip through society’s cracks. She showed up at school long before classes began, and she stayed long after the final bell rang. She never wanted to go home.
That was noted in a Joplin Globe article by reporter Derek Spellman published two weeks after her death:
Her bike was her steadfast companion and she knew the roads well.
Friends and others in the community of Stella would see her — a slender, brown-haired 9-year-old girl gliding along on her blue-tinted Blossom Quest bicycle.
Rowan Ford was careful to steer clear of heavy traffic, preferring quieter side streets that took her around the town’s tree-clad slopes and to the home of her best friend, Tyler, who happened to live across the street from Ford’s second home: the Stella Baptist Church.
A friend recalled at her funeral last week that Ford “just kept going and going and going.”
There’s speculation in hindsight now, speculation after Ford went missing nearly two weeks ago, speculation that intensified after Ford’s body was found, that the Stella girl spent so much time riding around town because she was keeping away from something.
After she was reported missing, it did not take long before her stepfather, David Wesley Spears, and his friend, Chris Collings, were arrested. Both made statements admitting to the crime, according to published reports.
The murder, as one might imagine, was devastating to the town of Stella, which has a population of about 200 and to the staff and students at Triway Elementary. Those students are now at the junior high school, still awaiting justice for their slain classmate.
David Spears’ trial is scheduled for this summer, while Collings will not see the inside of a courtroom until early 2011, thanks to a system that perverts justice through easily obtained continuances and built-in roadblocks designed to prevent trials from taking place on a timely basis.
Though I have never been a supporter of the death penalty, if anyone ever deserved the ultimate punishment it is the men who could even contemplate such evil, much less actually go through with the act. And the death penalty is on the table for both men.
Life has gone in Stella since the community was shaken to the core by the murder, but there is never a day when Rowan Ford is far from the townspeople’s thoughts.
Visitors still flock to a memorial webpage for Rowan, with condolences continuing to pour in and pages filled with pictures of Rowan and images of cartoon characters like Winnie the Pooh, a direct contrast to the violence that ended Rowan’s life.
When the community recently dedicated a memorial park for veterans, a tribute to the child was included. In her absence, she remains a part of Stella’s everyday life.
Rowan Ford was robbed over and over during her young life. She was deprived of her normal childhood, her innocence, and eventually, her life.
Meanwhile, the hourglass of justice continues to turn at a glacial pace, as the years pass since Rowan Ford, forever nine, was taken from us.