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5 years since boy was shot by Rock Hill mother

Valentine's Day, the day of love and kisses and hugs for almost everybody, broke gray and threatening.

The family of people with the last name Helms did not yield to whipping winds Tuesday, and went to the one place that seems so out of place when the sky is dark on the day of pink and red hearts and smiles.

The Helms men went to the cemetery, Grandview Memorial Park, to see the plaque with the race car and motorcycle on it. That's where the smallest of the Helms men, Jesse Joe Helms, is buried.

Jesse died five years ago today, at the age of 7, after a day at school where he made his mother a Valentine that thanked her for her love and help with his schoolwork.

A Valentine's Day in 2007 where, in court, Jesse's mother was found guilty of domestic violence against Jesse's father, Joe Helms. Guilty of biting him and cutting and scratching him three weeks earlier, in a drunken rage.

She was sentenced to counseling for batterers, and to get help for the booze.

A day after court and Valentine's Day, Jesse's mother picked him up from after-school, took him home and told him to do his homework. He walked toward his room.

Then she shot him in the back of the head, before turning the gun on herself.

The five years since have not been generous, or gentle, to Joe Helms, Jesse's father. He lost his only child to an unthinkable crime at the hand of his son's own mother.

Not a day, an hour, passes that Joe doesn't think about death. He sees the crime scene each day of his life.

To this day, Joe Helms lives in a mobile home right across the dirt driveway from where he lived with his companion of more than 17 years and son - until that horrible afternoon that Joe came home from a day at work in construction.

Joe found Sandra Glover, 46, and his son, dead from gunshots.

Five years later, a cabinet in the mobile home across the dirt driveway is filled with cards, pictures, Jesse's little life.

"I don't think about her at all," Joe Helms said of Glover. "What she did..."

Joe has to stop a minute. This is a man's man.

"What I think about is my little boy," he went on. "What he'd be doing. He'd be 12 years old, rushin' around. How he was such a good kid, tried so hard in school. He taught me stuff, read better than me.

"He was always happy, my son was."

Joe Helms, now 52, never had it easy before all this happened and didn't afterward. A neck injury a couple of years ago put him out of work, and he's trying to make it on the compensation. But he comes from a tough family, a strong family, that never let him down.

"Family, this family of mine," Joe said at the gravesite Tuesday, where he placed some balloons for Valentine's Day for his son, "always is there."

The family refuses to let Jesse's memory die. Jesse's grandmother, Ruth Helms, 82, put it like this: "I think about him and pray for him every day of my life. Jesse was a little boy."

Joe's sister visits the grave almost every week. She cleans up around it, makes sure it is neat and tidy. The family puts up a Christmas tree each year at the grave, a tiny one, and has a service on Jesse's birthday, July 29.

Right there, where amid the forever flowers you can spot a motorcycle and the Number 48 car - Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson was Helms' favorite driver. No kid pulled for a driver like Jesse pulled for Johnson, roaring out of Turn 4 and heading for home.

"We released balloons last summer, and I swear, the balloons went up in the sky and formed a '4' and an '8,'" said Jimmy Helms, Joe's brother. "We all saw it. It had to be God thinking about Jesse."

"No doubt - I saw it too," said Jimmy's son, Brandon, 19. He brings a tiny Bible and a hand-written letter to the gravesite every so often, wrapped inside a plastic quart-sized sandwich bag.

The letter was written about his cousin, more like his little brother, the day he died.

"Every day I think about him, what a good little kid he was, a kid who didn't do nothin' to nobody," Brandon said. "We rode those cycles together. Jesse didn't hurt nobody."

But Jesse's mother did.

A mother killing her own son remains so horrible, so much a part of this Helms family trying to deal with the grief, that it is impossible to talk about.

"We talk about Jesse, not her," said Joe Helms, the father. "That's it."

Others do, too. The Oakdale Elementary School teacher who had Jesse in second-grade five years ago, Paulette Hallman, and her students created a memorial garden outside the school after Jesse died.

The spot remains to this day.

Hallman, a teacher for almost four decades, was never shaken like the day Jesse was killed, and still she somehow managed to teach his classmates the next day. She held them and hugged them and read to them and hugged them some more.

To this day, Hallman keeps in touch with Joe Helms.

Jimmie Johnson sent Joe Helms a letter of condolence, and sent the kids in Jesse's class signed pictures.

"I never pulled for Jimmie Johnson before Jesse died," Joe said, "but I sure pull for him now."

"Me, too," said Brandon.

An anonymous donor, for five years on the anniversary of Jesse's death, has sent $100 to the school to be used in Jesse's honor.

One of the cops who responded to that crime scene five years ago - a veteran of more than 30 years investigating the worst horrors that human beings do to each other, a man who has put more than a dozen murderers away in prison forever - said point blank: "That day we walked in to see that little boy dead is the worst day of my life."

And a little girl remembers Jesse, too.

On Tuesday, a little girl who grew up down the street from Jesse left a stone atop the brass plaque at his grave. Each year the girl leaves something.

"You are my angel," was written on the stone.

"You are my sunshine!!" was written on the stone.

"BFF" was written on the stone - Best Friends Forever.

A single rose was left on the grave by somebody. A blue flower in an angel vase by someone. And somebody, nobody knows who, left a balloon tied to the vase that said, "Happy Valentine's Day."

It was the same words that Jesse had written on a hand-made card that he gave to his mother on Valentine's Day 2007, after she was convicted of beating up his father.

The same words as on the card on the refrigerator, behind a magnet, that day five years ago when Jesse's mother took that gun from somewhere.

The same words Jesse said to his mom after school, just before Jesse walked down the tiny hallway, and his mother raised the gun and shot him.

Tuesday, before he left the gravesite, Joe Helms looked at that balloon, and said, "Happy Valentine's Day, son. I love you, Jesse."