BOSSIER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - For the first time since their family's fatal car crash over the summer, a Bossier couple is opening up about their daughter Bailey and the unique role her school has played in helping them cope with Bailey's death.
Back on July 1, Barksdale Air Force Base airman Michael Romanyak, his wife Stefanie and her two daughters, Bailey and Keely Speights, were involved in a multi-vehicle crash on a Kentucky interstate. The family's SUV was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer, part of a 9-vehicle wreck outside of Louisville, Ky.
Bailey, 10, was killed and her mother and step-father were seriously injured.
Hundreds of people stepped up to help the family, many of them strangers. Some donated to a GoFundMe page and with their car totaled, others even volunteered to go get them and drive them back home to Bossier Parish.
The help hasn't stopped with the outpouring of kindness from strangers. Bossier elementary school has been ever-giving.
About a week ago, for the first time since the first week of July, the skies across the rain-deprived Bossier Parish suddenly opened up. The thirsty trees and flowers were finally blessed with some much needed water.
"We planted all the fresh plants around Bailey's stone and I think it was only fitting," said Princeton Elementary School principal Andrea Spinney.
It was the same day the school unveiled a memorial in honor of Bailey. The rain couldn't reach the faculty, students and family inside, however. They gathered in the school's library for a special memorial to celebrate their loving student and close friend.
But the tears poured down about as heavy as the rain outside.
"Our students weren't able to express themselves and show respect to the family," explained Spinney.
Little did Kentucky news viewers realize that summer day, lost in their interstate pileup, was one of Haughton's most-loved Bailey Speights. With the crash in Kentucky and her funeral in Mississippi, many of her closest friends never had the chance to say goodbye.
"For me, it was extremely therapeutic. I wasn't able to attend any of the services or anything, so it was hard," said Michael Romanyak.
Even Bailey's step-father missed Bailey's funeral while he was still facing surgeries in a Kentucky hospital.
"When you hurt, we hurt. Just know you've been in our prayers. We've prayed over your family a many of times," Spinney told the Romanyaks during the special celebration.
That's why Princeton Elementary decided to give Michael and Stefani Romanyak, as well as Bailey's classmates, another chance to share their love for Bailey. And in a surprising and very moving moment inside the school, a seemingly non-stop stream of students filed in; one after another, fifth graders, kids who would have shared a classroom, a hallway or even a laugh with Bailey this fall.
"Very proud of our student body. They were respectful of Bailey's family. They were proud to walk in," said Spinney.
And the students didn't come empty handed. Each had written personal thoughts, memories or prayers for Bailey's family to read.
"They were proud of what they had written on that card and they were even prouder to place it in that basket to give to Bailey's family," explained Spinney.
Principal Spinney said even after the library cleared out, it was as if the memorial continued back in the classrooms. Students continued to share memories, kind of like their own personal therapy to just let it all out.
"It just blew me away. The level of support, I don't know where to begin," said Michael Romanyak.
For the first time since the crash, Bailey's parents agreed to talk, namely to share their appreciation for the school, friends and supporters. Even though Stefani Romanyak made it clear that she didn't know if she had it in her to say a single word.
"She was like my kid. I raised her for 3 and a half years. Those 3 and a half years are everything to me. I never had kids before and having her come into my life was a blessing. It truly was," recalled Michael Romanyak.
When asking about his role in bringing up such a caring child, Michael Romanyak responded, "I could have done nothing to make her who she was."
And much like the students back in the classrooms, Stefani Romanyak finally decided to let it all out.
"It says 'God has you in his arms. I have you in my heart,'" recited Stefani Romanyak, reading from her necklace.
The necklace has Bailey's name on it.
"I wear this anytime I do something that I think she would enjoy, this is how we take her," said a tearful Stefani Romanyak.
The trip to Princeton Elementary was a first for Stefani Romanyak since the wreck and was the family's first chance to see the new memorial in front of the school.
"She was always a spiritual child. She read her bible all the time, every night," explained Stefani Romanyak.
And in a very remarkable, Bailey kind of way, it apparently won't be her last time at Princeton either.
"One of Bailey's favorite things last year was to bring her uniforms she didn't fit into anymore, and bring them to school and donate them to our uniform closet for our needy children," explained Spinney.
So, there's a solid chance one of Bailey's favorite Princeton t-shirts or sweatshirts marched right through the library at her own memorial.
"We have students on our campus today that are memories of Bailey, walking up and down our halls every day," said Spinney.
Some Princeton teachers even drove the 10 hours round-trip to Bailey's funeral in Mississippi. Bailey's memorial sits next to Lawson Bo Brandon's, the 8-year-old was killed in an ATV accident in 2010. His mother is Princeton's school counselor.