At East Hartford Vigil, Remembering A Good Student, Good Friend

Friends and family of Robert Swain light lanterns on the front lawn of East Hartford High School during a memorial service. (Will Parson/Hartford Courant)

Robert Swain was remembered as a formidable three-sport athlete and dedicated friend and student Tuesday at a vigil that drew a large crowd at East Hartford High School.

"All the success and all the goals that we set, he met," said Uyi Osunde, Swain's guidance counselor for three years.

Osunde said he was "surprised and shocked" when he received a phone call Sunday morning informing him that Swain, 18, and his brother, La'Andrew Evans-Swain, 16, had died in a car crash just hours earlier.

A memorial service for Evans-Swain, who was to start his senior year in the fall, is planned for Wednesday afternoon at the Manchester Regional Academy.

Evans-Swain was "a caretaker" at the alternative high school, a student who looked out for his peers and flourished in the school's close-knit community, Principal Bruce Thorndike said Tuesday.

"He was a good friend. He was invested in the program," Thorndike said.

East Hartford Superintendent Nate Quesnel told those who gathered at Tuesday's vigil that the entire school community is mourning Robert Swain, who graduated last month.

"Our hearts go out to the family and we're deeply saddened," Quesnel said.

People gathered around "the rock," a boulder at the entrance of East Hartford High, to hold the vigil for Swain. The rock was repainted with the words "RIP Robert and La'Andrew" and Swain's No. 13 football jersey was draped over the top. Friends and loved ones placed candles around the rock, and shared memories of Swain's time at the school.

The one-car accident happened at about 4:15 a.m. Sunday in East Hartford. Police say the two brothers and two other young men were found in a BMW on the front lawn of 380 Forest St. Robert, of 235 Main St., East Hartford, was pronounced dead at the scene; La'Andrew, of 33 Delmont St., Manchester, was taken to Hartford Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, police said.

The 18-year-old driver, who was not identified, was not injured, but was taken to St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center as a precaution. The fourth occupant, a 20-year-old who also was not identified, was seriously injured, police said, and was taken to Hartford Hospital.

Details about how the accident happened were not available Tuesday.

Evidence of the crash was visible Tuesday, with tire marks leading up to a tree and significant damage to its trunk. Flakes of bark and shards of windshield glass were scattered across the site, and friends and family members had left cards, flowers, candles, and other mementos around the tree.

Osunde recalled listening to Robert Swain's "signature raspy voice" when he came into his office, and said he had his struggles early on: "Like most teens, it takes some time to grow up." But Swain's drive and work ethic were such that he improved his grades and matured "dramatically" in just a few years, Osunde added.

Swain was a member of the varsity football, wrestling, and volleyball teams, and his teammates rallied together and supported each other throughout the emotional vigil. Many in the crowd gathered around the rock wore Superman shirts, in honor of Swain's nickname on the volleyball team.

Swain might not have had X-ray vision or the power of flight, volleyball coach Martin Martinez said, but "he would carry everyone on his back."

When Swain first approached him about playing volleyball, his physique was so intimidating, "I said you're probably gonna hurt someone out there," Martinez said.

Swain never missed a practice, and "this kid played five games on the JV level and before you know it he was playing on the varsity level," Martinez said. "He was a student of every sport that he played," and was "never, never, never afraid."

Senior football captain Carlton Steer said that "from a football standpoint, Swain was a man amongst children."

Steer gave Swain's family a team football and spoke about his legacy while his teammates hugged each other for support.