?A symbol of my love'

By Ed Brock

There's a pile of wood in the yard of Janelle Ewing's Tara Road house that her grandson James "Jake" Ewing McBee made while cleaning her yard more than a year ago.

It was one of the last things the 15-year-old did for her before accidentally shooting himself to death.

"I know things happen for a reason," Janelle Ewing said. "I don't want to question it, but I miss him so much."

McBee's mother, Janelle Ewing's daughter Joy Ewing, wears a locket around her neck that contains some of Jake's ashes. She recently received it from her sister Jill Ewing who has worn a similar locket since Jake's death last year.

This past Easter they spread the rest of his ashes while driving down Tara Road in a BMW convertible. It was the realization of a plan Joy Ewing and her son had made previously.

"Actually our thing was a red Porsche doing 100 mph on the Autobahn," Joy Ewing said.

Saturday was the anniversary of the day when Jake, while staying with friends at Rebecca Kay Whittelsey's Hampton home, hugged his girlfriend Betty Drake, told his friends goodbye, picked up a gun, pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger.

Police say they believe McBee didn't know the gun was loaded.

"It's been hard," said Drake, 17, about the past year. "I miss how wonderful he was. He was a great person ? It's changed my life completely."

On Saturday evening Drake and about 20 other friends of McBee gathered at Janelle Ewing's house to plant a magnolia tree in the yard, near another family house where McBee had spent his short life.

"This tree that I'm planting is a symbol of my love and each time it blooms Jake sends his back from above," Joy Ewing said, reading from a poem she'd written for the occasion.

Ewing and the others also put white roses on the roots of the new tree to be buried there, and they signed white balloons that were released during the ceremony. Drake wrote "I love you and I miss you" on her balloon, her message to the boy she'd only been with for one week.

"These balloons represent his spirit in the sky," Ewing's poem says. "Rest in peace now, my little man, you're a freebird so fly."

Ricky Steadham, 18, was also there the night Jake pulled the trigger.

"It's been rough. I miss him a lot," Steadham said. "He was real fun, he liked to cut up and laugh."

Joy Ewing knows how last year's shooting has affected Drake and Steadham and the other youths who were in the room.

"They've witnessed a tragic thing and it's consumed some of them," Ewing said.

Whittelsey was originally charged with keeping a disorderly home and providing a firearm to a person under 18 shortly after the incident. In late October she was re-indicted and is now charged with felony murder, reckless conduct, involuntary manslaughter and contributing to the delinquency of a minor as well according to the indictment.

Whittelsey was negligent in having the loaded gun in the house, thus leading to the reckless conduct and involuntary manslaughter charges, and the felony murder charge came about because McBee's death occurred because Whittelsey committed the felony of furnishing a pistol to a minor under 18, the indictment says.

She was arrested again Wednesday on those charges but was released on bond the next day.

Even with the re-indictment, Joy Ewing says she still has questions about what happened that night.

"There's a lot of answers that I'll never get simply because I wasn't there," Ewing said. "My son is the only one at peace."