Friends gather to remember wreck victims

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MANNING - Cars and trucks arrived as early as 6:30 a.m. Wednesday at the site where three Laurence Manning Academy students lost their lives exactly two years ago.

A light mist fell on the more than 200 people gathered to remember brothers Jessi Parnell, 14, and Cody Parnell, 17, of Manning and their friend, Cody Hall, 15, of Sumter. The three died Oct. 3, 2010, when their vehicle struck a tree beside the Old Georgetown Road.

Vicki and Jay Parnell, parents of Jessi and Cody Parnell, placed bracelets of orange and blue, LMA's colors, on the white crosses that mark the spot where their sons died. Crosses and the words "Cody Lee and Jessi James, brothers together forever," are embossed on each bracelet.

Jay Parnell broke the silence, saying softly, "It's been 730 days since we lost you. It hasn't been as long for the boys as for us. I don't believe that God's time is the same as ours. To them, they've only been in heaven a second. They haven't had the time yet to miss us. I know they loved everyone who is here today.

"I know that they would miss everybody here as much as we miss them," he added. "I love y'all for coming and supporting us."

Vicki handed out the bracelets to the students and other friends. She hugged the boys' former classmates, smiled and said, "Y'all are growing up."

As the service ended, she added, "Y'all be careful driving to school. Think about what you're doing, and always be careful."

Several friends later joined the Parnells at the Corner Diner in Manning for breakfast.

"(Vicki) often stopped by with the boys for breakfast on the way to school," said Pat Gibbons, co-owner of the restaurant. "I remember them so well. My heart goes out to all of them. It was such a tragic loss."

Ace Casten, 22, of Manning was at the breakfast.

"I help take care of the monument," he said. "Keeping up with the site makes me feel closer to the boys."

"He'll just drop by checking on us," Vicki said. "He'll give us a hug, and he's gone."

"No days are easy, (and) you learn how to live through the pain," Vicki said. She gets solace from knowing that with each day that passes she gets closer to seeing her boys again, and she's thankful for all the support the family has received during the past two years.

Vicki still talks to her sons at the site of the wreck, while Jay said he feels closest to them at the 50-yard line on LMA's football field.

"I go by the site every morning," Vicki said. "I make sure the three crosses are well cared for. I don't get to fix them up for their proms or weddings or help them buy their first homes, but I can take care of the place where they took their last breaths."

Jay and Vicki have a popular band, Virtually Unshockable, and music has provided them some comfort, Vicki said.

"There's a song, 'Tattoos on this Town,'" she said. "Our boys made tattoos on the hearts in this area."

Reach Sharron Haley at (803) 435-8511.