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'Wise beyond her years:' Hundreds turn out to Newark Charter to remember Madison Sparrow

Isabel Hughes
Delaware News Journal

At times, Madison Sparrow could be hard to read.

The 17-year-old, who went by "Madi" to family and friends, was introverted and introspective, her father, Richard Prestidge, said. That meant those close to her "didn't always know what was going on in her mind."

While that could be "a little frustrating," he said, those who knew Sparrow "always knew she was thinking very deeply" — often about anyone but herself.

"She was wise beyond her years," Prestidge said. "As we get older, I think we all have to reflect and stop and pause, and she did that."

Hundreds of people gather Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, at Newark Charter School to memorialize Madison Sparrow, a 17-year-old student there who police say was killed last week by her ex-boyfriend.

On Friday, about 300 friends and neighbors also did that at a vigil for Sparrow, who was killed last week. Police said her ex-boyfriend confessed to beating her to death, saying he and another person had planned her slaying.

Police have not given a motive for the killing, and court documents do not detail the plan or when it was concocted. Police have also not announced any additional arrests in connection with Sparrow's death, leaving many unanswered questions.

Madison Sparrow

But on Friday, as hundreds gathered on Newark Charter School's athletic field to remember the girl, her violent death was not the focus.

The teen's life – and how she brought people together after death – was what mattered.

"Let's respect this moment for what it is," longtime family friend Rohn Sitjar said. "This is an opportunity to stop, pause and remember that we are a community.

"Whether it's Delaware, whether it's surrounding states, whether it's the whole country, we are a community."

Rohn Sitjar speaks to the hundreds of people gathered Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, at Newark Charter School to memorialize Madison Sparrow, a 17-year-old student there that police say was killed last week by her ex-boyfriend.

In the week since Sparrow's death — she was reported missing on Oct. 2, and police announced her death Monday — community members have united in memory of the 17-year-old.

On Thursday, during another vigil, more than 100 people gathered at Riverview Beach Park in Pennsville, New Jersey, to remember her.

Sparrow's grandfather, Tom Mason, was a longtime teacher and coach at Penns Grove High School. Sparrow, who lived in the Newark area, was a junior at Newark Charter.

POLICE:Ex-boyfriend said he planned Madison Sparrow's killing with another person

On social media, support for Sparrow's family has been overwhelming, her family said.

People who never met the girl said they felt like they knew her because of the stories shared by friends and family. And even those who didn't know her well, such as Suzy Phillips, had a story to tell.

"She was our Girl Scout cookie supplier, the cutie that came trick-or-treating," Phillips wrote on Facebook. "Although I did not know Madi well ... just to wave and say 'hi neighbors' became a part of 'home.'"

As community members gathered Friday, they remembered a girl who, while quiet and pensive, was "funny, outgoing and vivacious."

"She just brought a different energy and a smile to everybody's faces," Prestidge said. "No matter where she went."

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That energy was present at Newark Charter on Friday. Though sadness hung in the air, many attendees smiled as they hugged one another as hundreds of candles flickered in Sparrow's memory.

"As she lived her life, she lived her love out loud," Sitjar said. "I think that's what we need to remember."

Send story tips or ideas to Isabel Hughes at ihughes@delawareonline.com or 302-324-2785. For all things breaking news, follow her on Twitter at @izzihughes_