East Newton High School is missing a student this year.
The 2012-2013 school year would have been Rowan Ford’s first at East Newton, the beginning of a new chapter in the Stella girl’s life.
That chapter closed before it ever ended nearly five years ago, November 2, 2007, when Rowan, a nine-year-old fourth grader at Triway Elementary, was raped and murdered. Earlier this year, one of the two men charged with the crime, Chris Collings of Wheaton, a family friend, was found guilty and was sentenced to death. The first appeal of that sentence has already been filed.
The other man accused of the crime, Rowan Ford’s stepfather, David Wesley Spears, will never stand trial for the murder.
The Barry County Prosecuting Attorney’s office dropped the charges against Spears Tuesday. Instead, Spears pleaded guilty to charges of child endangerment, for which he received a seven-year sentence, and hindering prosecution, which brought him an additional four years. The sentences will run consecutively, according to online court records.
Spears reportedly went drinking with friends, leaving the nine-year-old alone. After her disappearance, he repeatedly lied to the authorities, before finally leading them to the discovery of Rowan Ford’s body.
Though Spears told investigators that he had committed the rape and murder, Collings insisted that he was the only one involved and reportedly, none of Spears’ DNA was found on the child’s body.
Collings did not testify at his trial. It would not have done him any good. In fact, his attorneys did not present any witnesses, but simply rested their case. It was Collings’ chilling confession to Barry County deputies that after drinking heavily and smoking marijuana, he took Rowan Ford from her bedroom to his place, raped her and then murdered her when he thought she had recognized him and would be able to tell what he had done that cinched the guilty verdict.
Despite Collings’ insistence that he was the only one involved in Rowan Ford’s death, deputies indicated Spears had information that he could have only known if he had participated in the crime. There was no mention of that in statements issued following Tuesday’s guilty plea.
The plea and sentencing bring to an end a case that has had a profound effect on life in Stella, a community of 200, over the past five years.
In 2010, when the community dedicated a memorial park for veterans, a tribute to Rowan Ford was included.
And 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 depravity and violence that ended Rowan’s life.
April 11, on what would have been Rowan’s 14th birthday, the following message was left on the memorial page:
Happy birthday, Rowan. i know you had a wonderful day with all your angel friends you have met, but just wanted you know i miss you, but haven't forgotten you and someday I will see you again and will see that beautiful smile and get a big hug from you.”