Nearly 200 people came to show support for Rowan Ford, a missing Stella girl, during a candlelight vigil.

Walking in the cold air Tuesday night, nearly 200 family, friends, members of the community and even strangers came to show their support for Rowan Ford, 9, during a candlelight vigil.

Rowan was last seen by her mother, Colleen Spears, Friday night. Federal investigators are assisting sheriff's deputies in the search for the girl.

The group gathered shortly before 6 p.m. at the Stella Baptist Church, the church Rowan attends. They proceeded down the street, around the block, with candles lighting up the sky and the participants’ voices singing hymns of praise.

Making their way around the block, they ended up at 777 Grove St., Rowan’s home. As they walked up the driveway, the participants sang her favorite song, “Old Rugged Cross.”

Hugging a giant teddy bear in her arms, Colleen Spears and Rowan’s two sisters, Janice Shaffer and Ariane Parsons, stood by as the participants shared stories about Rowan.

“She was a very sweet little girl,” said Carolyn Sanders, Rowan’s Sunday School teacher. “She had hugs for everybody. She was very helpful. She is just a loving little girl. She was always happy. She was one of the family.”

“I may not have known Rowan very much, but I know that she loved her mom and her sisters very much,” said one of the young vigil participants, holding back her tears. “Every time I saw her, she had this beautiful smile on her face.”

Joining the memories was Todd Holt, Rowan’s fourth-grade homeroom teacher. He read from a letter from him and the other Triway Elementary fourth-grade teacher, Tammy Marshall.

“On behalf of Mrs. Marshall and I, we would like to thank everyone and their children do as well, for all of their thoughts and prayers for Rowan,” Holt said. “We have always thought of our fourth grade, not as two separate classes, but as one very large family. Our children are not only our students, they literally become our children. We anticipate and will continue Rowan’s safe return.”

Wanting to comment about Rowan, Judy Ennis, stepped forward.

“She is a special girl,” Ennis said. “She would come to church with the biggest smile on her face and she would run into the classroom and wanted to know if I needed any help. She was always there an hour and a half before church would start. She loved to read the Bible. She loved Jesus so much. We are praying to the Lord to bring her home safely.”

Connie Moser, organizer of the event, pleaded with anyone having information about Rowan.

“If anyone has this little girl and they see us, bring her home,” Moser said. “There are other children that are hurting for this girl. And how could someone take her away. We love you and miss you very much, Rowan, wherever you are.”

During the last couple of days, Holt and his class have been trying to get by.

“We try to keep things as normal as we can,” Holt said. “It has been hard for all of us.”

With tears in his eyes, Holt described Rowan as an angel.

While giving interviews to the various media outlets, Janice Shaffer also pleaded for her younger sister’s safe return.

“Anybody who knows anything at all about rowan or has her, just bring her back,” Shaffer said. “Please, just bring her back. That is all that we are asking.”

Community support

“It has been phenomenal, just look at everyone here,” Shaffer said. “They support us. They have been out there searching and doing everything that they can. You could not ask for a better community.”

“I think that the community support is awesome,” Parsons said.

Shaffer said she talked to her sister around two weeks ago.

“She just wanted to make sure that I knew that she loved me, she missed me,” Shaffer said.

Asked if Rowan is watching tonight, what message she would want to bring to her younger sister, Shaffer said: “I just want to tell here that we all love her, and we miss her and we want her home.”

Parsons said the last time she talked to Rowan was a week and a half ago.

“We pray to find her,” Colleen Spears said.

As a community searches for Rowan, the property has been adorned with balloons and a yellow ribbon.

-- Neosho Daily News