Dozens of loving messages honoring Riyadhna Farrow, known to some as “RiRi,” were written on the door of her Red Bank home Friday night as hundreds gathered there for a vigil in her memory.
The 18-year-old Red Bank Regional High School senior died suddenly last Monday.
The Count the Children Movement organized the event for friends, packed tight in a parking lot at the Montgomery Terrace apartment complex, to share their fondest memories of Farrow and for borough, school and church administrators to remind those closest to her of Red Bank’s support.
“In our [town’s] smallness, we’ve created such a might unit, and there is evidence of this tonight,” said Mary Wyman, the vice principal of Red Bank Middle School. “And really, I’m so pleased and proud of Red Bank right now, but unfortunately, this week we were tested again.”
On Friday alone, Riyadhna’s peers raised more than $1,000 in donations to assist her mother, Ahdina Clayton, with funeral expenses and the care of her other sons and daughters.
“You yourselves are a powerful source of healing for your friends,” RBR principal Risa Clay told the the students. “Through your bake sales, your gentle words, the loving presence you’ve provided each other, showing what wonderful people you are.”
Red Bank superintendent Jim Stefankiewicz extended the school’s community support to the Farrow family.
“Once you enter the Red Bank Regional family, you never leave it. And Riyadhna will always be a Buccaneer,” he said. “We will be here for you today, tomorrow, next week, next year, next decade. You have us.”
Mayor Pasqaule Menna, who attended with borough council members, acknowledged the large turnout as a testament to Farrow’s positive impact on everyone who knew her.
Many in attendance were neighbors, church members or shoppers at the Super Foodtown where Farrow worked, and had met her once or twice and said they could never forget her smile.
Through a series of poems and speeches, they learned about what defined Farrow not just a love for the singer Drake, summer, Skittles, the outdoors, navy blue and giraffes, but her determination in school and an unwavering dedication to everyone close to her.
Sunny Lenhard, her freshman advanced algebra teacher, spoke tearfully of the impact they’d had on each other’s lives.
She remembered what Farrow said to her on her first day of high school: “‘No offense, Ms. Lenhard, math’s just really not my thing,” and how she came to love the subject, staying up late to teach her friends geometry, joining the school’s math and science academy and even teaching a lesson on factoring when Leonhard was struggling to explain it.
“Riyadhna is a big reason why I love teaching,” she said. “She strived to do more than be physically present in that classroom. She made it her mission to understand. It will never be forgotten.”
Others remembered her as studious as well, with plans to go to college next year.
“She was serious about her work, and she wasn’t afraid to look smart, even when a lot of people were,” said classmate Jeianeira Woods.
Woods met Farrow while showing her around her new school in third grade, and even then, she was dazzled by the smile referenced by each speaker as contagious.
“Even though people tend to pick on the new kid, I knew Riyadhna could hold her own,” she said. “She carried herself with the grace that meant that no one would even want to bully her, not because she would fight back but because her smile would only make them want to be her friend.”
Clay suggested that the students at the vigil see Farrow’s passing as an opportunity to do what would have made her proud.
“Think of the promise her life had, and fulfill it yourselves,” she said. “What is it you plan to do with your one precious life? You are bound to choose only what is good and what is right if you do it in Riyadhna’s name.”
A close friend, Kadayjah Smith, has already taken that to heart.
“Riyadhna always found the light, and when she did, she would bring it to me,” she said. “In her smile and even in her laugh, in her absolute conviction that the two of us could have more, be more, do more. I’m going to get that more for the both of us.”