St. John's Prep mourns sixth grader killed in Andover

DANVERS -- Remembrance, presence, and mutual support were the recurring themes at St. John's Preparatory School's Feb. 9 prayer vigil honoring Sebastian Robinson, a sixth-grade student whose life was tragically taken in the early morning hours that day.

Police responding to a 911 call had found the bodies of Sebastian and his parents, Andrew and Linda Robinson, dead from gunshot wounds in their home in Andover around 3:30 a.m. The Essex County District Attorney's Office said the father's wounds seemed to have been self-inflicted, and that the incident appeared to be a case of domestic violence and murder-suicide.

Ed Hardiman, the head of St. John's Prep and a parent of one current student and two alumni, addressed the media later that morning. He said the news came as "a profound and devastating shock" to the community.

"Sebastian was well known in our middle school for his creativity, his passion for learning, and his presence as a kind and gentle soul. In the classroom, he was eager to ask why and how, and for more depth about the subject matter. He was also an enthusiastic participant in our co-curricular programming, especially our string orchestra and service projects," Hardiman said.

St. John's Prep canceled classes for Feb. 9 and 10, but students were encouraged to come to the school, where counselors were available and food and activities were set up for students.

"As a school with a values-rich and faith-based mission, in times of trouble and grief we turn to our faith and to prayer as we seek to console and support each other and all those impacted by this tragic situation," Hardiman said.

His words proved true as over 2,000 mourners gathered in the Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center in the evening of Feb. 9 for the prayer vigil, which was also live streamed.

Father Jim Ronan, a 1962 graduate of the prep and the retired pastor of St. Mary-St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Charlestown, presided over the service. Sebastian's cello was set up on the stage beside the podium.

As he addressed those attending or watching the vigil, Hardiman encouraged the community members to support each other and listen to stories of Sebastian.

"To our students that are here this evening, you often speak of brotherhood and community as you experience it every day. Now is the time for that bond, for that connection to shine as a beacon of support, love, and hope for each other," he said.

He clarified that brotherhood "should never be equated with strength or toughness, and that it's good and healthy to show emotion through tears."

"As you express the bond that brings you together, let us walk with each other and find ways to support each other, and sometimes, just be with each other," Hardiman said.

He said that he had spoken with Sebastian's aunt earlier that day, and that she had expressed her gratitude to them for gathering.

"Your presence here tonight is making a difference to Sebastian's family, to the prep community, to the town of Andover, and to all those who mourn this tragic loss," Hardiman said.

Michael Driscoll, the middle school campus minister, read statements about Sebastian from various teachers and administrators. Middle school Director Jason Larocque said that Sebastian "represented the spirit of the prep with his creativity, sense of wonder, and a deep desire to learn more about the world around him." Diane Hastings, the middle school music teacher, described Sebastian as "intelligent and hardworking," demonstrating "purpose, determination, and humor." Middle school counselor Katherine Gorham recalled Sebastian's enjoyment of books, bicycling, animals, and playing Uno and Connect Four with his friends.

One of Sebastian's remembered achievements was being the "creative force" behind the winning entry in the school's Halloween door-decorating contest. His class's door featured a QR code to listen to music and three-dimensional art representing the school's administrative building. His classmates all thanked him when they won the prize.

"Sebastian was a compassionate and caring classmate to all those around him. He would always listen and respect those who would share their thoughts," Driscoll said, speaking for himself after reading the statements of his colleagues.

"I will be forever grateful that I taught his kind soul," he concluded.

The service included Scripture readings, a homily delivered by Father Ronan, and music, including "The Prayer of St. Francis" and a solemn rendition of "His Eye is On the Sparrow." Students took turns reading prayers of petition, interceding for Sebastian, his family and friends, the first responders of Andover and the Massachusetts state police, and the entire St. John's Prep community.

The vigil ended with the assembly singing St. John's Prep's alma mater, which Hardiman said was "a reminder of the way that our school has guided us, serves as a beacon, and will be there for us moving forward."

The family announced on Feb. 14 that the funeral Mass for Sebastian and Linda Robinson would be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 18, also at St. John's Prep's Leo and Joan Mahoney Wellness Center.