STELLA, Mo. -- This tiny Newton County town is unfortunately used to shocking news, but Wednesday's plea deal by David Spears came as a complete surprise. It strikes a nerve, even nearly five years after 9-year-old Rowan Ford's death.
In her hometown, there seems to be some mixed feelings about whether Spears was negligent or directly involved with Rowan's rape and murder. Either way, there's no waivering over his punishment. Across the board, people say it's not enough.
Stella's only convenience store has been doubling as a support group for the last five years.
"This is the gathering place," Becca Hance said.
It's where the 158 people who live here come to talk about their town's painful past.
"Anger, a lot of people are angry," said Click's One-Stop employee Lisa Blevins.
It's the first place Hance came.
"It's good to have someone to talk to," she said.
And, sometimes, it's good to not have someone to talk to.
"There's a peaceful feeling you get when you come out here," Hance said, standing at the back of the town cemetery.
Hance heard about David Spears' plea deal and went to Click's for confirmation. Then she went to Rowan Ford's grave.
"Her favorite color was purple, so that's usually what I try to bring."
She didn't bring anything with her Wednesday, just memories.
"She was one of a kind and her life was cut short for the wrong reasons."
Hance lived down the street from Rowan, was in the same grade as the little girl's older sister, and went to church with both.
"Since my mom is a cook over here," she said, pointing at the school, "Rowan would come to school every morning, 6:30, 6:45 and sit in the cafeteria."
But there's more. Rowan was the last in a long line of tragedies for Hance from car crashes that killed five of her friends and illness that took her dad -- and the only one who needed justice.
"I don't think it was harsh enough," said Hance.
She knows no punishment will bring Rowan back, though. The closest thing to it is remembering her out loud, and in silence.
Hance says Stella has changed in the five years since Rowan's death. She says she no longer goes outside alone at night, and she still lives with her mother because she's uncomfortable with either of them being alone.
Rowan would have been a freshman in high school this year. This past May, when her class graduated eighth grade, they wore purple ribbons and left a chair empty in her honor.