Sheila Gaskin stood quietly in front of her grandson's gravesite last week at Rose Hill Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Conway.
She'd just placed a Christmas tree -- decorated with gold and red bulbs, a red garland with gold trim, and red bow with green trim -- on the ground above the spot where her 2-year-old grandson was laid to rest last December.
"My baby's gone,'' she said, tears welling in her eyes as she stood looking at his plot of earth.
Gaskin's grandson, Sincere Smith, accidentally shot and killed himself a year ago on Christmas, when a handgun his father left on a living room end table accidentally went off in his hands. Since then, she has worked to help her family cope with the loss. ``I don't even question how it happened,'' Gaskin said. ``I know God has a plan. I miss him, but I know I'll see him again.''
Gaskin said she still is saving to place a headstone at Sincere's gravesite, which could cost more than $1,000 if she gets the one she wants. She added the Christmas tree to the gravesite she's tended with love throughout the past year. She's placed a garden fence, landscaping rocks, toys and a plastic windmill on Sincere's piece of land.
"I want to get him a headstone,'' she said. ``I don't want him to get lost out there.''
Gaskin said she visits Sincere's grave every day to talk to him and pray.
"When I say, `bye, little boy,' that windmill gets to going,'' she said.
Coping with tragedy
Early last December, Sincere's father, Rondell Smith, said someone tried to break into his home on Daisy Lane in the Conway area. He didn't feel safe, he said, so he purchased a gun for the home.
Last Christmas, the family celebrated early before Sincere's mother, LaKisha Brown Smith, left for work around 6 p.m.
Shortly after she left, Smith stood in the living room to call his wife with Sincere and his then 9-month-old sister nearby. Sincere grabbed the gun, which was on an end table in the living room, and shot himself as he stood next to his father.
"The phone went straight to voicemail,'' Smith said in an interview with The Sun News last year. ``By the time I stopped calling and turned around, he'd killed both of us.''
Smith drove to the hospital, with Sincere in one arm and his daughter, Saniyah, in his other, Gaskin said.
Smith pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in his son's death in August and is serving a five-year sentence in Kirkland Correctional Institution. Gaskin said her daughter, Brown Smith, has had a difficult time ever since her son died last year.
"When she's not working all she does is sleep,'' Gaskin said.
She, her husband and daughter moved in with Gaskin, who lives across the street from them, after Sincere's death.
"[LaKisha] never went back to that house until February when we packed up her things and put them in storage,'' Gaskin said.
Smith calls his wife from prison frequently, Gaskin said.
"He told her keeps a journal every day,'' Gaskin said. ``He writes down what he's feeling. He said he just prays and reads his Bible daily.''
Last year, Smith said no punishment by the law would suffice -- nothing would bring his son back.
"Going to jail ain't even enough,'' he said. ``Whatever's coming to me is coming to me.''
Just two months after Sincere's death, both parents were arrested and indicted on a charge of unlawful conduct towards a child -- then 11-month-old Saniyah.
The arrest came after officials with the S.C. Department of Social Services found that Saniyah tested positive for having inhalation exposure to cocaine and marijuana as well as ingestion exposure to marijuana. Those charges were dismissed against them both in August, according to court records.
Gaskin called Sincere a ``McDonald's baby'' and said he refused to eat fries from anywhere else.
One of her last memories of her grandson is of him standing in her doorway, opening and closing his big hands saying he wanted fries. He wasn't able to get any last year because McDonald's was closed. They told Sincere he'd be able to get some the next day.
"He never did get those fries,'' she said. ``I tell him, he's got all the fries he wants now.''
Sincere was a very smart child, one who could sit and watch Nick Jr. without losing interest, Gaskin said. His younger sister, 1-year-old Saniyah, is as smart as he was, but doesn't have his personality.
"She looks just like him, though,'' Gaskin said.
"Christmas has always been Gaskin's favorite holiday and she and her family planned to visit Rose Hill to spend time with Sincere on Wednesday, but wasn't able to.
"We couldn't go,'' she said. ``We just cried all day.''
Friends bound by loss
Less than two weeks after Sincere died, 36-year-old Sylvester Lorenzo Bell -- who is the son of Gaskin's best friend -- was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting while he waited to pick up his daughter from the bus stop on Sixth Avenue in Conway on Jan. 7. He died the next day at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center.
Bell is buried next to Sincere in Rose Hill and sometimes both Gaskin and Bell's mother, Aurelia Bell Lewis, visit the cemetery together, as they did last week -- though Lewis said she can't go every day.
"I can't do it like that,'' she said. ``It's too hard.''
Three teens have been arrested in connection with Bell's death.
Hasien Markeese Ransom, who was 15 at the time and turned 16 in March, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Rashad Derller Burroughs, who was 19 at the time and turned 20 on Tuesday, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to charges of accessory to murder after the fact.
"These kids have to realize guns kill,'' she said.
Lewis also is hoping to place a headstone on Bell's grave when she can get the money together; for now a metal marker signifies the place where her son is buried.
The two stood in silence looking at the final resting places of their young loved ones and those of others in the cemetery. Gaskin noted that some graves had been lost over time, guessing groundskeepers accidentally mowed down markers at other plots where families also had been unable to purchase headstones.
"Well, they don't need to worry about tending to this one,'' Gaskin said as she pulled weeds from between the white landscaping stones on the ground above Sincere's casket. ``As long as I'm breathing, I'll tend to it.''