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Vigil held at Mayfield High School in memory of slain Rebecca Pletnewski, daughter Olivia Schneider

November 30, 2018

Vigil held at Mayfield High School in memory of slain Rebecca Pletnewski, daughter Olivia Schneider

MAYFIELD, Ohio -- More than 200 people attended a celebration vigil Thursday evening (Nov. 29) at Mayfield High School in memory of the lives of Rebecca Pletnewski and her daughter, 8-year-old Olivia Schneider, who were found dead Nov. 20 in their Longwood Road home in Mayfield Heights.

They were victims of homicide.

Well wishers present included those who knew the deceased and their family, as well as those who didn’t. For about an hour, those in attendance in the school’s auditorium heard students sing heartfelt songs and listened to words of remembrance and hope from school officials, relatives and others.

Attendees, holding glow-in-the-dark plastic bands, were then asked to step into the school’s gymnasium, which was darkened as a final song was sung in front of a backdrop of luminaria that included written messages to Pletnewski and Olivia placed upon the unfolded bleachers.

“It was an amazing, caring tribute. It was incredibly touching,” said Highland Heights resident Toni Rassi, who, like many, wiped away tears at various points during the vigil. Rassi was with her daughter, Gia, who was a cheer squad member with Olivia during the football season.

Of her daughter, Rassi said: “She’s had four meltdowns this week. We had our own private balloon release in memory of Olivia (on Sunday) and said a prayer for her.”

Also among those gathered were Bob and Marilyn Barrett of Lyndhurst. “I had to be here because we’re friends with Daryl and Joanne Schneider,” Bob Barrett said, speaking of Olivia’s grandparents. “Our kids went to high school together.

“It was a very loving and touching tribute.”

Added Marilyn Barrett: “We’re here to help them grieve. We just came to extend our love.”

Among the speakers was Alicia Pletnewski, Rebecca’s sister, who was accompanied to the stage by Olivia’s father, Kurt Schneider, who did not speak, but who plans to start a Toys for Tots campaign in his daughter’s memory.

Alicia Pletnewski said Olivia was extremely caring, as was her mother.

“Every Christmas, (Olivia) would donate a toy to a child in need,” she said. She said that mother and daughter never spoke to others about their good deeds.

“Love will always win,” Pletnewski said. “We mourn together, and we stay together. In the words of Olivia, ‘Choose to be kind, and your world will be like a rainbow.’” Pletnewski received a standing ovation when she finished speaking.

Also delivering a meaningful and loving tribute was Deana Belsen Morris, who stood with other nurses who worked alongside Rebecca Pletnewski, 41, in a University Hospitals natal intensive care unit.

Morris remembered Rebecca Pletnewski as a “mentor and sister” to her fellow nurses, and as a smart woman who “encouraged us to live life to the fullest.”

“We will live our lives in honor of her legacy,” Morris said.

Lander Elementary School Principal Felicia Evans spoke about third-grader Olivia, calling her “a ball of sunshine.”

“Her smile was infectious, and her giggle could be heard across the room,” Evans said. “And, Olivia was a hugger. She wore her love for everyone right on her sleeve.”

Evans thanked the community for its support, stating that the school has received gifts and stuffed animals for every third-grade student.

“No child should have to feel this loss,” Evans said.

Mayfield Schools Superintendent Keith Kelly began the vigil by thanking all for coming, and saying that what makes Mayfield special is that “we come together when people are in need.”

Speaking to Pletnewski’s and Schneider’s family members, who were sitting at the front of the auditorium, Kelly said, “If you turn around, you’ll see all those people who care about you and love you.”

On Nov. 23, Mayfield Heights police arrested Dominique Swopes, 27, the man who lived next door to Pletnewski and Olivia. Swopes is accused of stabbing Pletnewski to death, then starting her house on fire. Olivia died of smoke inhalation.

Lyndhurst Municipal Court Judge Dominic Coletta set Swopes’ bond at $5 million on Wednesday.

Vigil attendees also made donations to help support 4-year-old Vivienne Whittle, Rebecca’s surviving daughter and Olivia’s sister. At a table, attendees also wrote letters of encouragement and support to Vivienne.

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