SPECIAL REPORT: Working to keep the memories of “The Appling Five” mass murder victims alive one year later

APPLING, Ga. (WJBF)- It’s been more than one year since a mass shooting rocked the town of Appling, Georgia.

On April 22, 2016, Wayne Hawes drove to the houses of Roosevelt Burns, Rheba Mae Dent, Kelia Clark, Lizzy and Shelly Williams, and shot and killed each one of them.

This, after a domestic dispute with his estranged wife, Angela Dent.

Hawes eventually turned the gun on himself.

One year later, the memories of that night still haunt family members. .

“That’s a day you don’t like to talk about but I don’t think we will ever forget it,” said Anthony Sweat, cousin of Kelia Clark.

In the Appling community, family ties run deep.

“I was related in some kind of way to everyone who lost their lives that day. The Burns, my great grandmother was Burns, my grandmother and Reba Mae were first cousins. We always felt like she was our aunt because everyone called her, ‘Big Ma,'” said Sweat.

Sweat says the loss of what’s now called “The Appling 5” is felt every day.

Just this weekend, a balloon release was held to honor the family members and friends who passed away.

“I’ve been out there in the neighborhood and everybody is out…and it’s not the same. You know, it’s definitely different. There’s times when you look over and you don’t see them and it kind of wears your down,” said Sweat.

Now, Sweat is working to bring something positive out of this tragedy.

Through his James Henry Sweat Foundation, he’s starting a scholarship in the name of his cousin, Kelia Clark.

“I remember when she was in high school at Greenbrier and how she pursued to be a nurse to take care of her grandmother. That’s what she used to tell everybody,” said Sweat.

The Kelia Clark Scholarship will go to five students in Columbia County each year.

It represents the five lives lost that day.

Sweat’s efforts don’t stop with the scholarship.

“Every time we were out there at practice, he’d be over there, just to kind of hang out with us. It’s weird because we’re going to start working on the field and it’s going to be weird not having him there,” said Sweat as he spoke about Shelly Williams.

Sweat says Williams was always cheering on Appling’s baseball team– The Georgia Mets.

Sweat says eventually he wants to turn the baseball field into much more for kids who live in the area.

“I just think it would be great if we could put a community center there and service all the kids in Appling and clean up the baseball field, give them somewhere to go and maybe name it, “The Appling Five Memorial Park,'” said Sweat.

Through Sweat’s efforts, he says he hopes to bring some light to a memory that is so dark.

“We’ll never forget it and I want generations to know what these people meant to our community and our family,” said Sweat.

You can follow Sweat’s foundation on Facebook.

Just head to: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=James%20Henry%20Sweat%20Foundation%20

There are some startling statistics in the state of Georgia regarding domestic violence and guns.

We’re taking a look at what is being done to take guns out of the hands of accused abusers.

You can look for that Special Report this Thursday on NewsChannel 6 at 6 pm.

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