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Remembering Michael

Mother shares memories of son taken from her in 2007 gang-related shooting

Posted: December 7, 2012 6:01 p.m.
Updated: December 10, 2012 5:00 a.m.
Photo courtesy of Jody Hancock/

Michael Smith

Michael Joseph Smith was more than a young adult killed in a “gang-related” shooting five years ago on Dec. 7, 2007. He was a son and a brother. As the Chronicle-Independent concluded its three-part series “Michael’s Legacy, 2007-2012” Friday, Michael’s mother, Jody Hancock, said she wanted to make sure those impacted by Michael’s death and the community’s response to it didn’t forget Michael himself.

The number of people at 17-year-old Michael Smith’s funeral was just a small indication of how he touched the lives of others. Jody Hancock, Michael’s mother, said her son was working two jobs at the time of his death: one at IGA and the other at Shoney’s. Hundreds of people came to Hancock’s home and wrote her letters about their interactions with Michael through school and his jobs.

Many people were hurt by his death, she said. Hancock remembered that Michael and Travaris Hicks, one of his best friends, used to talk about their future plans and what they would do when they got older. She said Hicks has now graduated from college and is currently working with children. Michael’s friend Adam Cunningham’s whole family was affected by Smith’s death, Hancock said, because Michael spent a lot of time with them.   

“He was my angel,” Hancock said. “Michael was just a good kid. I can’t sit here and say that he didn’t do anything wrong and he was perfect, but he was a really good kid. I couldn’t believe that he had touched so many lives. He treated people with respect and a little extra care, and that meant a lot to people, I guess. I was proud, yet so disappointed, because he was only getting started.”

Hancock said Michael had a “great attitude,” manners and good grades despite their ups and downs. Born and raised in California, Hancock moved to Kershaw County not only to be closer to her mother but to get away from California. She said she was 19-years-old when Michael was born and that she eventually became a single parent, although her son has traveled to California to spend time with his father. It was just her and Michael for many years before she had her other children, she said. Because of Hancock’s work schedule, Michael watched his two younger sisters and brother regularly while he was attending Camden High School (CHS).  

Hancock said she and Michael talked a lot about life. She said she would always try to encourage him to take the right steps and warned him of the dangers of being around people who were doing anything illegal, because he would have to pay the consequences of affiliation. Hancock remembered Michael telling her that a boy he got into an altercation with was a Blood gang member. Both boys were suspended from school, and Hancock said she went to speak to CHS’ principal at that time to make sure nothing prevented him from attending college.

Hancock remembered that the night Michael died, she’d rearranged her schedule. That ultimately allowed Michael, who also wasn’t working that evening, to attend a party in Cassatt.

“That was the first Friday night he had gone out since I don’t know when, because I always worked weekends. This one particular weekend, I had switched my schedule and said ‘You don’t have to babysit tonight,’ because he was off from both of his jobs. I said, ‘Baby, go ahead; hang out and have a good time’ and he never came back home,” Hancock said.

She didn’t see her son until the next day in the funeral home … “as evidence,” she said.

Hancock said she was told her son was killed because someone was trying to get back into a gang. She said that was “ironic” because she and Michael’s father were raised in California.

“I purposely kept him from California so he wouldn’t be like that; because in that area it’s just like that,” Hancock said. “You either have to be somebody who’s like that or you have to be somebody who gets messed with, and I didn’t want him to have to make that decision. I wanted him to just be him.

“To be in Camden, S.C., and my son had died because someone just wanted to get back into a gang hurts so bad. It’s hard for me to accept because if it had been a car accident or if he was sick then I could have said, ‘Well God was just ready for him.’”

Hancock said that having been in California, she noticed gangs sign in various areas of Kershaw County, but she really didn’t take notice until her son died in Camden and Kershaw County’s first-ever gang-related shooting death.

“I just remember thinking ‘Bloods? What gangs are out here?’ It literally blew my mind because that was something you came to accept in California; that’s just the way it was... and I now it’s everywhere: there are more gang-members running around here than there are stores, gas stations. These kids are walking around with guns in their holsters like they are accessories to their outfits; and then they mess around and shoot somebody or they hurt somebody…and they are crying; they want to act like a child again then,” Hancock said.

“I’ve seen it all my life, but it’s true that until it happens to you, you never really know that pain.”

Hancock said it is painful to realize Michael would have been finishing college now if he were still alive.

But she also shared that some of her favorite memories of Michael were those when she would see him and say, “Hey, handsome,” because he would always reply “Hey, beautiful.”

Continuing her life has been a daily process for Hancock. She said it took two years following Michael’s death before she “came to her senses” and realized she didn’t want her other three children to grow up and say “Mommy couldn’t try for us, we needed her too.” They were hurting too, she said.

Hancock said Michael’s stepfather, Marcellus Juggins, also helped her “tremendously” throughout the years since Michael’s death.

“I have three beautiful children that I adore, and for them I keep trying,” she said. “All I know is that I’m one kid short; and when it’s his birthday, when it’s Christmas and I go to take him presents and love, I have to do it at his grave site now. It’s the worst feeling in the world.

“But I will say that I’m thankful that he has been remembered; at least people recognize him as a good kid. It was terrible what happened; he was more than my son, he was my best friend.”

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