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Community grieves loss of 'great kid'

October 15, 2005|By CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

GERRARDSTOWN, W.VA.


Miana Stewart and her family recently took home two "party ponies" that Miana planned to take to birthday parties so children could experience one of her passions: riding horses, according to a neighbor of the Stewarts.

"When I first think of Miana now I just think of her on her horse," said Kandi Gochenour, who lives in the same development, Gerrard Acres, as the Stewart family. Gochenour also is a teacher at Musselman High School, where Miana was a ninth-grade honors student.

Along with the two ponies, the family also had two horses, with Miana's being "the tallest one," Gochenour said.

"If she rode another (horse) he'd have a real fit," she said.

Miana was the only child of Randy and Mary Stewart.

On Friday, as word spread that Miana was found slain inside her Gerrardstown home Thursday afternoon, her teachers and fellow students were left grieving and in shock.

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"They're in disbelief. The thing is, why?" Gochenour said. "There's no rhyme or reason to this."

Police said Miana's mouth was taped and she was tied up after she came home and found an intruder inside the family's house.

A man found fleeing on foot from the home has been charged with murder, daytime burglary and malicious wounding, police said.

Police alleged that Roger Dwayne Smith, 24, of Martinsburg, told officers that nobody was home when he arrived at the house, and that he let himself in through the unlocked front door.

Smith was being held without bail Friday in Eastern Regional Jail.

Kristy Hogbin coached Miana when she played on Musselman Middle School's eighth-grade basketball team, which finished its four-month season in February with an undefeated record.

"She was just a wonderful kid. She had a great attitude. Always had a smile for you. She truly was a great kid," Hogbin said.

At the end of the season Miana gave her coach a card, thanking her for all she had done.

"Honest to goodness, she is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Truly nice. Good-hearted," Hogbin said.

As a basketball player Miana was hardworking and dedicated even though she was involved in other activities, including her school's Bible Club and a service club called the Builders Club. Miana made sure her schedule was arranged in such a way that enabled her to honor all of her commitments.

Hogbin also described her former player as funny in a shy way, quiet, mature and levelheaded.

Although Hogbin does not now have children, if she ever does she has one hope: "I would want (him or her) to be just like Miana," she said.

New Musselman Middle School Principal Jim Holland said his children knew Miana and his wife was one of her eighth-grade teachers last year.

"She was a very gentle sweet-spirited kid," he said.

She looked out for other children and was always quick to praise them when they deserved it, he said.

She was quiet but well-liked, the kind of student who kept in touch with her former teachers.

"She always had a smile on her face," Holland said.

He said he met with the school's staff early Friday to apprise those who had not already heard the news of what happened.

Some took it hard.

"Lots of tissues are in our library to take care of everybody," he said.

Janice Wright, a guidance counselor at Musselman High School was one of many people helping students and staff deal with their grief.

"I'm seeing a variety of feelings. Some of the kids are shaken, obviously in shock, disbelief. But on the other hand I'm seeing them come together in a powerful way," she said. "Mixed in with the students' (feelings), I'm sure, there is some anger."

Ninth-grade English teacher Jessica Salfia said she did not expect to be greatly affected, given that Miana was not one of her students.

However, when she walked into her classroom she found herself confronted with a hysterical group of Miana's friends. Some had brought pictures and old yearbooks to school and were passing them around, she said.

Many adults, she said, have dealt with a tragedy in their lives, but most students have not.

"It's hard as an educator because they're all our kids. You really get involved in their lives," she said, crying. "They're confused. And they want to talk about it. They want to know why, and there is no answer. You do the best you can but they're all affected."

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