BRUSH PRAIRIE — Family, friends and well-wishers gathered around the couch at Faith Center Church on Sunday to share their memories of Ariel Romano, who was killed nearby in June.
The “couch,” covered with mementos, was really a prop on the church stage placed as a tribute to his life, as chaotic as it sometimes was, and all the times he crashed on the different guests’ couches.
Romano, 29, was shot and killed driving early June 9 on state Highway 503 near Northeast 119th St. His car struck a tree near Prairie High School, and investigators believe his death resulted from a drug deal gone wrong.
He was the seventh of nine children and a natural athlete, according to family. But pain medication meant for a back injury received through football led to an addiction and related criminal activity. The habit grew worse after 2012, when he fractured his pelvis, leaving him with chronic pain.
Family said in 2016 — while he had multiple ongoing court matters to resolve and continuing challenges surrounding custody of his 2-year-old daughter — he got serious about his recovery. He completed drug court in May 2017, and he had nearly completed all of his dependency court program requirements when he was killed.
He had been living with his parents for about the last three years of his life. Romano’s father, Jerry Romano, shared his regrets, and the challenges addiction creates for whole families.
“He felt love from a very imperfect dad,” Jerry Romano said. “He knew, in my bumbling way, that I loved him.”
Jerry Romano said after any of the frequent arguments or blow ups at home, his son would always have the same twinkle in his eye.
“He’d look at me and say, ‘Dad, I get you, I know this frustrates the hell out of you, but you’re doing an OK job, hang in there.'”
Toni Romano, Ariel Romano’s mother, said part of why they organized the event was because he would have wanted it.
The church also provides a ministry catered to those struggling with addiction, of which Ariel Romano had made use.
“The voice that has been shut down, now, is his voice,” Toni Romano said. “But I think it lives in our hearts, it lives in the hearts of the people who knew him, and those of you that identify with the struggles that he had.”
Too many people don’t understand the length and breadth of what addiction is doing to communities, she said, and they want to be there to help address it.
“I think something we really learned from him is that addicts matter,” Toni Romano said. “That your lives matter.”
Donations are being accepted for the Ariel Joseph Romano Memorial Fund, which will be used to help children affected by addiction, at Umpqua Bank branches.