Local

Remembering 'a special friend'

Oakdale Elementary School third-graders who were classmates of Jesse Helms last year gather Tuesday around the memorial tree in front of the school to remember Jesse, who was killed a year ago by his mother in a murder-suicide.
Oakdale Elementary School third-graders who were classmates of Jesse Helms last year gather Tuesday around the memorial tree in front of the school to remember Jesse, who was killed a year ago by his mother in a murder-suicide.

It has been a year since Paulette Hallman had to gather 18 second-grade students and tell them that Jesse Helms, the 19th student in their class, was dead.

Jesse was killed by his mother, who shot him and then herself, on Feb. 15, 2007.

On Tuesday, those same students -- who are now 9 and 10 years old and in five third-grade classes at Oakdale Elementary School -- gathered to remember and celebrate the life of their friend Jesse.

Jesse was the boy who liked NASCAR driver Jimmy Johnson, who kicked the ball the highest during soccer and who secretly was popular with the girls on the playground.

"He was everybody's friend," Hallman said. "You don't always find one kid who everyone wants to play with. Everyone wanted to play with Jesse."

Students formed a circle around the weeping cherry tree, planted in front of the school shortly after Jesse's death. The children didn't cry like they did this time last year.

Instead, they ate homemade gingerbread cookies with frosting smiles to remind them of Jesse's smile.

"Today is a special day," guidance counselor Kelly Gainey said. "We're going to remember a special friend."

Students passed around a picture of Jesse in the school's pumpkin patch. Jesse found the first pumpkin to sprout that year. A blue ribbon, won by one of this year's pumpkins, is hanging from his tree.

Afterward, the group moved indoors to eat cookies and brownies and talk about what they liked about Jesse. His friends remembered him as sweet, nice and very helpful.

"I bet he's happy because he's with his dog that died," Peyton Moon said.

"I just know that I'll always keep him in my prayers and in my heart," added Artisia Muhammad.

As the students were heading back into the building, four boys turned back to pluck a few purple wildflowers from the ground and lay them at the foot of the tree -- the same thing they did when the tree was planted last spring.

  Comments