CUYAHOGA FALLS: The children began gathering at Ross Park on Maplecrest Street just before 5 p.m.
Some brought their parents, some came alone or with friends.
Balloons in the shape of a football greeted them at the entrance to the field where the city’s youth football team plays.
Younger brothers and sisters ran through the field as the teens — most from Roberts Middle School nearby — found their friends and began to form groups. They laughed, giggled and talked in excited tones.
To someone passing by, it could have been an after-school party.
Instead, the crowd was there to say goodbye to one of the league’s players.
The 13-year-old Roberts Middle School eighth-grader played his last game Sunday.
On Monday at 9 p.m., Cuyahoga Falls Schools Superintendent Todd Nichols got the news that the boy had died.
Nichols contacted the Roberts Middle School principal, who used the emergency phone system to notify parents of the school’s students.
A crisis team was in the school on Tuesday when the students arrived.
“What a tragedy,” Nichols said. He called the teen, “a young man with a tremendous future.”
The Summit County Medical Examiner’s Office has not yet ruled on the cause.
On Monday evening, the football team held a candlelight vigil on the field at Ross Park.
Jo Dee Sullivan, parent of a Roberts student, thought about ways for anyone who wanted to honor the boy, so she planned Wednesday’s balloon vigil. She brought 15 dozen balloons.
Just after 5:30, she asked the crowd to gather in a circle around the lit candles on the field. Most held balloons in black or gold, with a smattering of stars and hearts made of mylar.
Some of the balloons, such as the one held by Roberts eighth-grader Amy Mymintch, had notes tied to them.
In unison, about 300 voices counted, yelled, “We love you ” and released the balloons.
They had come to say goodbye, and now they could say nothing. Instead, they watched in silence as the breeze carried the balloons south, drifting away from the school and the field.
The silence was broken by the sobs of children trying to grasp the painful reality that the boy with the big smile and kind words would not be in class anymore. They remained in the circle and comforted each other as the last balloon drifted from sight.
Then they stayed as the blue sky was swallowed up by the darkness, as if afraid that if they left, their friend’s death would become real and he would be gone forever.
With the darkness came dropping temperatures, and the crowd began to walk to their cars and homes.
As she and her friends reached the gate, one of the teens turned back to look at the field.
“Rest in peace,” she said.