Dozens of students at Hayes High School released balloons Friday to honor the memory and spirit of a classmate who passed away over the weekend.
As classes came to an end Friday, students from the multi-disability (MD) room and the peer mentorship program gathered in Cornell Stadium to pay tribute to Evan Rothwell, 17, a junior at Hayes who passed away on April 20.
Becky Saunders, the MD teacher at Hayes, said Rothwell was a Down syndrome student in the class and was beloved throughout the school.
“He was very involved with all the peer mentors and all the students who came to volunteer in the classrooms for students with disabilities,” Saunders said. “He loved to dance; he loved Star Wars; he had the best laugh and made everybody else laugh. That was his favorite thing; to make other people laugh.”
Saunders said Rothwell was a favorite of students in the peer mentor program.
“He meant a lot to all the peer mentors,” she said. “He was the one of the first kids to get peer mentors involved, whether it was with his smile or his laugh, he helped put kids at ease when they came into our room to volunteer. All the peers loved to interact with him and thought the world of him.”
Saunders added that several graduates who knew Rothwell attended the balloon release Friday, and she had heard that several out-of-state grads had tried to come back to Delaware for the ceremony.
“He had an impact on a lot of people,” Saunders said.
Students who attended the event wore red shirts or Star Wars shirts as a tribute and “thank you” to Rothwell, since they were his favorite things, said Principal Richard Stranges.
“Every now and then, magic happens,” Stranges said. “What Evan brought to our special needs classroom was magical. His energy, his smile, are contagious. We’ll miss him.”
Madison Izworski, a senior, said she could move past any type of bad day when she saw Rothwell’s smile or heard his laugh. Caitlin Carter, a junior in the peer mentor program, agreed, adding she was glad to have gotten to know Rothwell.
“I feel like the people that were here really got to know him as a person,” Carter said. “He was truly a bright, happy kid. He didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
Carter said she was glad that all of Rothwell’s friends and classmates gathered for the balloon release and wore Star Wars and red shirts.
“I hope it means something to everybody,” Carter said.
Calling hours were held Friday afternoon and funeral services will be held today at 9:30 a.m. at New Hope Church, 74 Wootring S., Delaware. Burial will follow at Oak Grove Cemetery.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.