Rochelle community voices support for family in wake of tragedy

Published: May. 24, 2023 at 9:52 AM CDT
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ROCHELLE, Ill. (WIFR) - The community joins forces to support one family dealing with the death of their 8-year-old son.

Abbey Ewald was driving in Ogle County Friday evening when her vehicle veered off the road and rolled over several times. Her 8-year-old son Conner was her passenger. He was pronounced dead on the scene while Abbey was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries.

“Pure shock,” says Deana Rhoads, the grandparent of a child who went to school with Conner.

“You have a million words to say, but you don’t know how to say them,” says McKenzie Hackler.

Hackler says Conner and her son Brantley the boys were best friends who played soccer together, went to birthday parties and sometimes walked to McKenzie’s house after school when Conner’s mom asked McKenzie to watch him. She says Rochelle is like a family of its own.

“We’re a small community, but a big community at the same time,” says Hackler.

“It was crushing for this whole community,” says Heather Powell, the parent of a kid who went to school with Conner. “We are parents, grandparents, four peas in a pod. All of our sons were extremely tight friends.”

Shortly after hearing the news, Hackler reached out to the family to organize a GoFundMe.

“Funeral costs are extremely expensive, and no parent should ever have to worry about laying their child to rest and worry about the expenses of it,” says Hackler.

As of Tuesday night, more than 150 donors raised nearly $9,000 for the Ewald family. The money will help with funeral expenses for Conner and medical expenses for Abbey, who now recovers at home physically and mentally.

“We’ve had an amazing outreach from a bunch of people in the community and it just goes to show that Conner touched everybody’s hearts,” says Hackler.

Conner was a 2nd-grader in Ms. Meiners’ class at Central Elementary School in Rochelle. Some families of Conner’s classmates say the school won’t be the same without Conner. Powell says whether it was boy scouts or playing soccer Conner was always involved in something.

“Almost everybody really almost in the county had some knowledge of Connor and his family very very affluent and popular and really great people you want to be around.”

“He was just a caring little boy,” says Rhoads.

“He’s a goofy kid. He was a great friend to our kids and grandkids. He truly cared about everybody,” says Hackler.

Hackler says one classmate didn’t find out until Sunday night about Conner, and instead of going to school on Monday, she and the boy’s grandmother took both boys out to lunch to talk and feel supported.

Some Central Elementary parents say the school helps students cope with the loss of their classmate with emotional support dogs and counseling. The school also allowed the children to go out on their own for counseling if they didn’t want to do it in a group setting.

“We’re just really sorry that they have to end the year like this,” says Powell.

Powell says it’s remarkable the impact an 8-year-old boy has on the entire Rochelle community.

“One thing I’ve taken away from this is to love and cherish your people every day,” says Powell. “You just don’t know when something like this is going to happen.”

According to the Ewald family’s GoFundMe, Conner’s visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 25 at Unger Horner Funeral Home in Rochelle.

The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Friday, May 26 at the Presbyterian Church in Rochelle.