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By SUZANNE CARLSON and JESSE LEAVENWORTH, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
10:07 PM EDT, July 16, 2013
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.
"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."
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