On being Devon Epps’ mom
The last time Amanda Smith had a birthday party, it was an affair celebrated with three close close friends and a trash can full of booze and fruit. The girls all dressed up, posed for pictures, and acted like silly young women as they drank their “PJ” and celebrated the anniversary of their births. The summer of 2006 was on the wane and, if the pre-party pictures were any indication, life was pretty good.
At the time, as Smith celebrated her 26th birthday, no one said anything about the pictures or said anything about how the lifestyle might have affected her child. Many of us can look back on our lives at that age and recall similar times. In a neighborhood of glass houses, the first order of landscaping is cleaning up the stones. The more forgiving among us believe, as long as Smith provided for her child, she could not be blamed her for the occasional indiscretion.
Even today, one of Smith’s close friends (name withheld on request) doesn’t see Smith’s occasional partying as any indication that Smith was a bad parent. “We had parties on occasion and she drank occasionally on the weekends,” the friend told me, “but never in Devon’s presence. By no means would I label her as an alcoholic or a drunk.”
When a fire nearly killed Epps in May, those friends stood by Smith’s side. Her MySpace page was packed with messages of sympathy. Friends from all over offered anything Smith needed to cope with the near-tragedy.
Today, it couldn’t be more different.
This week, Amanda Smith celebrated her 27th birthday and the circumstances of the day couldn’t be more different. Today, every detail of Smith’s life is under scrutiny. Friday night, prosecutor-turned-television-vigilante Nancy Grace piggybacked on the release of an Associated Press article on Epps and dedicated half her show to the death of the seven-year-old boy. Lines like “This story stinks worse than 10-day-old flounder, OK? There’s a million things wrong with it” were peppered throughout the half hour.
What was once the subject of local news, crime forums, and this blog had just turned into a national story. If Smith had developed any comfort in the level of coverage, it had to change Thursday night when the AP article hit the wire and Friday night when Grace brought in crime pundits from around the country to ruminate on the story. Smith, now a fresh 27 years old–guilty or innocent–was quickly becoming a national pariah, compared to the infamous Susan Smith.
In this environment, a lot of people would fall back on old friends. Instead, Smith has fallen off just about every familiar radar screen. The last time she surfaced publicly, she was sandwiched into the back of a truck in nearby Spartanburg County. The wreck was cause for even more questions about where Smith had been that night, not to mention what she was supposed to be doing the next day. Not injured badly enough to require hospitalization, Smith faded back into the shadows.
Even a one-time close friend who praised Smith’s parenting skills has not shared a phone call with Epps’ mother.
“Honestly, I haven’t talked to her since she had her wreck, which has been a couple of weeks now,” the friend said. “She hasn’t contacted me and I haven’t contacted her. It’s been really hard on [her friends] because of everything that’s being said.”
Smith’s disappearance from her friends’ lives (and rumors about what she is doing now) are a strain on many people who know her. The only comments those people can summon with any ease involve Devon Epps himself. Said one friend, “He was the most outgoing, Southern-accented little boy I had ever met. He was kind of mean, but what seven-year-old isn’t? He loved sports. He loved his Clemson Tigers. He also loved motorcycles.”
But, on the subject of Smith’s story–the one that tells of a knife-wielding carjacker in the most unlikely of places and with the most unlikely of motives–even the people to whom the young woman was once the closest can’t bring themselves to sign off on it.
When I asked a Smith friend about whether Smith’s story was believable, the friend simply responded, “In ways yes. In ways no.”
That is as close as Smith’s old friends are getting to making a public statement in defense of the now 27-year-old woman.
We have no way of knowing what Smith is doing tonight or if she has a friend by her side. There is no way of knowing whether the mother sat down in front of the TV and cried as she was nationally trashed on Nancy Grace. Until this week, the media had been relatively kind to Amanda Smith. Now, the AP is making connections to Susan Smith and Nancy Grace is on the warpath.
In the face of near-accusations that she killed her son, Amanda Smith is silent.
Tonight, I find myself wanting to tell Smith’s story, wanting to know how she’s spent the past five weeks, and wanting to know how many friends she has left. No matter how many news stories run and how many pundits talk, Smith’s story is the only one that matters tonight.
If only she would tell it.