Spencer boy passes following pool accident

Tuesday, June 12, 2012
A special message about Michael Rohan was among the many items posted at the memorial in his honor. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

Hearts, prayers pour out at memorial site

Michael Miles Rohan, 6, of Spencer, passed away at 8:50 a.m. Sunday, four days after a drowning incident at the Spencer Aquatic Center. Services for the son of Kevin and Susan Rohan have been scheduled for later this week (see sidebar).

The tragedy has led to the establishment of a memorial, by a private citizen, on the south fenceline separating the pool from the rest of the Riverside Park property. Stuffed animals, balloons, sports equipment and personal messages - including a "thank you" from the Rohan family - provide a colorful remembrance dedicated to the young man who many have followed via the family's "Caring Bridge" web page.

A pair of visitors stop by the memorial site for Michael Rohan outside the Spencer Family Aquatic Center. The six-year-old died Sunday, four days after a drowning incident at the center. (Photo submitted)

"As a long-time Shayla Bee supporter, helping families has become a very important part of my life. ... You never know as a parent if you will ever get the phone call telling you your child has had a very detrimental life-changing accident," Shelly Higgins, who began organizing the memorial via Facebook Saturday morning, said. "It's heart-wrenching to see families struggle through this and I cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like to lose a child to such a horrible tragedy."

"Many friends shared the post as the day went on, and the items kept accumulating all afternoon Saturday, with a steady stream of traffic on Sunday," Higgins said.

Ryan Johnson, president of State Bank, announced Monday morning a memorial fund has been established at State Bank sites in Spencer, Everly, and Peterson. Donations can be dropped off at each location.

A small soccer ball, including a special message of thanks to classmate Michael Rohan, hangs, protected in a plastic bag at the memorial established outside the Spencer Family Aquatic Center. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

Higgins had an opportunity to meet with Kevin, Michael's father, at the site Sunday afternoon.

"They were so touched and Michael's dad had just returned from Sioux Falls that day, stopped at the pool, unknowing what he would see. He said it was amazing! The support from the community has been wonderful. He took a few items from the memorial that day to show Michael's mom, who had stayed behind with family in Sioux Falls," Higgins explained.

Many have visited the site at the pool, which has remained closed since the afternoon of the tragedy, some offering prayers and gifts.

"I have talked with a few people," Higgins said. "I heard stories of people stopping to pray and cry, five young men on skateboards on their knees in front of it, and little kids bringing toys of their own to the site, especially for Michael. I even heard a story of a little boy putting 13 cents, all he had in his pocket, in the bag he left filled with flowers and a stuffed bear, just so Michael could buy a candy bar. Just yesterday, I saw a little girl in a pink tutu walking with her mom up to it yesterday to leave some marigolds for him. You would be amazed at what kids that small understand and I think it's a great thing for parents to bring their children there and to explain to them about it."

She continued, "Things like this are horrible tragedies. And with this, there were so many people involved. The emergency team, the pool staff, the kids at the pool that day, all his little classmates, school teachers, soccer mates and coaches, the list could go on. It can be very traumatic, and I only hope that giving people somewhere to go, somewhere they can be with Michael, or something that they can relate or remember him with, will help in the healing."

Becky LaBarre, executive director with the Spencer Family Y, shared the remorse of the staff at the passing of Rohan.

"The staff and volunteers of the Spencer Family YMCA were deeply saddened to learn that Michael Rohan passed away. Our hearts are broken. We continue to keep his family and friends in our thoughts and prayers, and we ask the entire Spencer community to do the same," LaBarre said. The local YMCA staffs and trains the lifeguards each summer at the aquatic center. Lifeguards on-duty helped perform care to Rohan prior to the arrival of the EMS staff at the pool, shortly after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 6, when the six-year-old was discovered unresponsive, floating in the pool at the aquatic center, by a patron. He was taken by Spencer Ambulance to Spencer Hospital and was then transported by helicopter to a Sioux Falls Hospital. For a good portion of the time at Sanford's Childrens Hospital in Sioux Falls, Rohan was in a medically induced paralysis, before the conclusion was reached to end life support measures.

His parents decided to allow Michael to benefit other patients awaiting LifeSource organ and tissue donations.

Spencer Police and medical personnel have ruled the incident at the pool an accident.

* Services for Michael Rohan

Services for six-year-old Michael Rohan will be at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, June 14, at Messiah Lutheran Church, in rural Flandreau, S.D. Visitation is from 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, at Skroch Funeral Chapel, Flandreau. A tentative service is also planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Grace United Methodist Church in Spencer, with visitation from 9-11 a.m. He will be laid to rest at Riverside Cemetery in Spencer.

* How can you help?

A memorial fund has been established at State Bank sites in Spencer, Everly, and Peterson. Donations can be dropped off at each location.