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)

"You knew that he was playing hard, you knew that he was playing tough, and he had your back no matter what," Steer said. "He pushed everyone on the football team."

The team came together one last time, shouting their pre-game slogan: "Pain is only temporary."

Ryland Vann, 19, said that when he was a senior he was Swain's "locker neighbor" on the football team, and while most younger players needed encouragement to practice hard, "I never had to do that to him. It's crazy. He was just made like that."

Vann said Swain had a reputation for keeping others' spirits up and was the team joker.

"Rob has always been a man of smiles, always. ... He was a joke man," Vann said. "It was just many laughs with him. There was never a serious moment with him, until now."

But when it came to athletics, Vann said, Swain was serious about making his best effort for the team.

"He always worked hard in practice," Vann said, adding that his brother, Jamane Ward, also 19, was on the wrestling team with Swain, "and he always worked hard there, too."

La'Andrew, who would have turned 17 in October, had been at MRA for about three years. The school serves about 75 students in grades 7-12 who have emotional and behavioral problems and those who feel overwhelmed in the town's other public schools.

La'Andrew had done well at MRA and had been transitioned to Manchester High School in the last school year, Thorndike said. But he came back to MRA's more intimate environment "because he wanted to," Thorndike said.

Well liked by other students and the staff, La'Andrew was athletic and enjoyed mountain biking on the campus paths at Manchester Community College, where the alternative high school is located, Thorndike said. He also liked working with his hands in vocational programs such as wood shop, the principal said.

The staff at MRA described La'Andrew as "kind-hearted" and a "gentle soul," Thorndike said.

"He loved sports, loved to ride his bike, loved to play ball and was a great team player," Thorndike wrote in an email. "He loved his mother, who we know here at MRA as a very gentle, loving, kind-hearted woman.

"I know these are probably words you hear whenever you have the unfortunate task of gathering information about a deceased young person," he wrote, "but in this case, there are no truer words. He was just a nice, kind, gentle boy."