June 13, 2024
Funds

Mom of Kettering Fairmont teen killed in 2016 raises college funds in son’s honor


The Ronnie Bowers Memorial Scholarship has raised about $17,000 and helped 10 seniors earning diplomas pay for their first year of college since 2018, the year Bowers would have graduated, she said.

But the 16-year-old’s life was cut short after being shot in the head while fleeing a Kettering confrontation in which he was a bystander on Labor Day weekend 2016.

The scholarship, now in its seventh year, has “helped with my healing by doing for others, by having something positive to look forward to by giving a gift to a complete stranger,” Combs said, “a teenager who is becoming an adult, who’s just getting started out there in the world, who’s furthering their (education). And it’s something that Ronnie never got the chance to do.

Combs also wanted to “give back to the community, especially how much they rallied around us when that happened back in 2016.”

Bowers went to Weisenborn Junior High School in Huber Heights before the family moved to Kettering and he enrolled at Fairmont High School.

Grief and heartache

The scholarship started during the trial of Fairmont student Kylen Gregory, who said he did not know Bowers. Gregory testified that he fired a gun at Bowers’ car — which was traveling away from a confrontation — to make “a statement.” Authorities said the shot was fatal.

Sixteen at the time of the shooting, Gregory was convicted as an adult in November 2018. He was sentenced to 11 years minus time served — the case went back and forth a few times through the judicial system, and was stalled by a Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

Combs, who was a fixture in the courtroom throughout the Gregory case, tearfully pleaded with the sentencing judge for the maximum of 41 years. Prosecutors pushed for at least 35 years.

The jury conviction on reckless homicide and related charges was appealed and upheld in a Dayton district court in November 2020. Gregory’s attorney did not dispute that ruling, ending the four-year old case, which had been Kettering’s first gun-related homicide since 2007.

Gregory has been in custody since early September 2016. He is eligible to be released from the Madison Correctional Institution May 31, 2027, Ohio prison records show.

“We’re the ones living the life sentence,” was all Combs said when asked about Gregory.

“We had three or four years of court and that seemed like that’s all I did,” Combs said. “There’s a lot of negative that comes with that. There’s a lot of stress that comes with that. There’s a lot of grief and heartache.”

While her grieving is less frequent now, “it’s still there every day,” she said. “I have to choose to be happy and I have to choose not to let the grief swallow me every day.”

As the court case progressed, Combs started working with Dan Loofboro, a Centerville mind trainer. Loofboro said he focuses on having his clients get their thoughts under control through breathing, exercise, spiritual talks, finding gratitude “and then focusing on helping other people as soon as you can.”

Scholarship requirements

Loofboro said he instructs his clients dealing with grief to “suffer through it. Let it out. Cry. And then get back on the horse and do what our lost loved ones would want us to do, which is to help other people in their name.

“When we’re grateful and when we’re helping people, we’re much happier,” he said, noting that Combs’ “progress has been great.”

She said the scholarship has “helped with my healing because it’s a way to not only keep Ronnie’s name out there in the public, so he’s not forgotten. But it’s also what he would have done. I can’t express enough how giving and how sweet and just how literally kind-hearted Ronnie was.”

Scholarship recipients receive at least $1,500, but the amount has been as much as $3,000, depending on how much is raised, Combs said.

She’s been told that this year, an anonymous donor will give $2,000. Donations can be made at https://www.facebook.com/share/p/W6bxbwv5vMfyii3S/?

“With the cost of college rising, this scholarship helps students reduce the amount that they may need to borrow and also gives them a sense of pride to be honored in Ronnie’s memory,” said Fairmont French teacher Michele McCarty, who shares information with Combs about specific applicants.

“This scholarship allows students to use the money where their greatest need is, whether it be tuition, housing, or class materials,” McCarty added.

To be eligible, Combs said, graduating Fairmont seniors must have: at least a 2.8 grade-point average, no out of school suspensions, no juvenile record, a teacher’s letter of recommendation, and they must provide a written essay.

Helping kids who need it

“That always helps because teachers are always ground zero for these kids,” she said. The essay is “just something that gives me a little bit of insight about these kids. And it helps choose them when it comes time.”

Combs said the scholarship requirements are aimed to help “kids who need it more.”

The standards give “these kids who may not be able to afford a four-year somewhere or they may not have a (large) scholarship,” she added.

One year, McCarty said, one of the recipients was a student who had lost both his parents.

“Although he did receive a scholarship at his university, these additional funds allowed him time to adjust and focus on his transition without the added burden of finding a part-time job,” she said.

Recipients are picked by a committee that includes a Fairmont French teacher and Theo Hale, a former Bowers classmate who works for the district, Combs said.

She remains close to many of Bowers’ friends, many of whom have gone to college, are getting married and having children.

Had he not died, Bowers would be turning 24 in June.

“I feel like Ronnie would have had a wife and kids already,” Combs said. “I may have been a grandma. And all of that was stripped. His whole future was stripped.”





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