Community supports family of boy killed in hit-and-run

Hamilton-area elementary students are invited to attend a memorial service for 9-year-old Robert Leonardi Friday at 6 p.m. at the Daly Elementary School. The boy was killed Sunday in a hit-and-run on Golf Course Road. The balloon release at Daly Elementary will be followed by the Robert Leonardi Memorial Run/Walk at River Park that will start at 7 p.m.

An estimated 1,500 people packed the Hamilton Middle School gymnasium Thursday morning to show support to a longtime Bitterroot Valley family whose 9-year-old son was killed Sunday in a hit-and-run.

Robert Anthony Leonardi was struck and killed as he attempted to cross Golf Course Road in Hamilton shortly before 1 p.m. by a driver allegedly traveling nearly double the 35-mph speed limit.

The community has rallied in support of his parents, Phil and Alyce Leonardi, both well-known teachers at Corvallis High School, and his other family members.

For those who attended the memorial service, there were counselors, information on grief, Kleenex packets and water bottles available in the lobby. Just inside the gym was a display table of Robert’s photographs and his favorite stuffed animals, jerseys and caps.

Rows of chairs on the gym floor filled quickly as did the south bleachers. The bleachers to the north had to be opened to accommodate the crowd. The service started about 10 minutes late to allow for people to be seated.

Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton and eight deputies attended as did current and former county commissioners, staff from Corvallis and Hamilton schools,  and about two dozen children.

The service lasted about a half-hour with music provided by “Robert’s Playlist,” filled with songs he enjoyed. Speakers included family friend Jake Jessop, Robert’s uncle Paul Yoakam, his coach Brad Weston, his brother Devin Leonardi and family friend Spencer Huls.

They shared how Robert lived. No one mentioned how he died.

His brother Devin said Robert's life was cut short by "ignorance and carelessness."

Faculty and staff at Corvallis and Hamilton School districts brought food for a reception following the memorial service. When the schools asked for volunteers, the 120 slots that asked for enough food to feed 25 filled up quickly. An anonymous donor provided the meat.

In addition to the dining set-up in the HMS lunchroom, the east side of the gym was set with tables and chairs for the reception following the service.

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Tears flowed throughout the ceremony as hearts were broken by the tragedy the Leonardi-Yoakam family endured.

Community members will remember the young boy again on Friday.

Daly Elementary School Principal Nate Lant said elementary school students are invited to a balloon release at the memorial established in front the school at 6 p.m.

“It will be a pretty low-key event,” Lant said. “The kids will have an opportunity to write a message on the balloon before they are all released. …Our main focal point is the elementary age group in our community. They may not have known Robert, but when something like this happens, it hits home to all of us.”

Following the balloon release, there will be a 1.5-mile run/walk starting and finishing at Hamilton’s River Park at 7 p.m.

Doug Martin of Hamilton Physical Therapy said the idea for the Robert Leonardi Memorial Run/Walk came mostly from current and alumni members of Corvallis High School’s cross-country and track teams, whose members had close ties to both the Leonardi and Yoakam families.

“They didn’t have an outlet to show their hurt and their support for the family,” Martin said. “They said what they know how to do is run. Running made them feel better. This group of alumni and current team members decided they could show their support for the family by hosting a run.”

Those who decide to attend can either run or walk the 1.5-mile course or they can stay at the park and share a fellowship with each other, Martin said.

“Someone will say a few words before we start,” he said. “It will be a time to be together and show how important Robert and all of his family have been in our lives. … We want to encourage people just to bring their lawn chairs and be together on a beautiful summer evening.”

Martin expects that some from the balloon release will attend the Robert Leonardi Memorial Run/Walk.

“They will be releasing blue balloons,” Martin said. “That was Robert’s favorite color.”