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Three years after her death, Cortney Smith’s friends and family gathered under a picnic shelter at Oakwood Cemetery to celebrate her life Thursday.

This came as the family is preparing for the trial of Cortney’s boyfriend, Jason Tenor, on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. The trial is set to get underway Monday.

Rain pattered against the roof as friends filled balloons with helium. The group reminisced about Cortney and discussed the upcoming trial as they wrote messages to her on the balloons.

Cortney’s mom, Jenny Smith, said she wanted to remind people of her daughter’s death and give them another chance to come forward with information.

On Nov. 7, 2016, Cortney, 18, was found shot to death in her bedroom at a home in the 100 block of Tree Line Drive. Tenor called 911 and told telecommunicators that he was playing with a gun when it accidentally fired, hitting Cortney in the head.

Tenor, 21, was charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Smith said this was the last time she would hold a vigil on the anniversary of her daughter’s death. She prefers to remember her daughter by celebrating her birthday. However, she wanted to hold a vigil this year because the trial was so close.

“It’s celebration instead of death,” Cortney’s dad, Doug Smith, said.

Upcoming trial

Jenny Smith said she was glad the trial had finally come, but she didn’t want to hear what would be said or see the evidence. Regardless, she plans to be sitting in the courthouse every day.

“Every day,” Jenny Smith said. “Because he (Tenor) is going to see me.”

Ryan Haigh, a special prosecutor with the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, was assigned to the case because of a potential conflict of interest with Iredell County District Attorney Sarah Kirkman, who went to high school with Tenor’s father, Charles.

Haigh is the third prosecutor. The original special prosecutor left the Attorney General’s Office after being assigned the case, Attorney General’s Office spokeswoman Laura Brewer said.

Ken Darty is representing Tenor.

“He’s first up,” Darty said in a phone interview Friday afternoon.

He added that his client is indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter, and stressed the accidental nature of the charge as opposed to voluntary manslaughter.

Darty said he’s planning on a fair trial, but isn’t ruling out the possibility of a plea offer.

“I’ll know by Tuesday,” Darty said.

Remembering Cortney

“I don’t know how they say it gets easier, because it doesn’t,” Jenny Smith said.

She and her mother, Cortney’s grandmother Patty Booher, called Cortney the glue holding the family together.

Booher said Cortney was the first to call people on their birthdays and never forgot Booher’s anniversary.

“She was like my right-hand man,” Booher said.

She added that when Cortney was grounded as a child, that meant she couldn’t visit her grandmother.

Booher considered how much Cortney had missed in the three years since her death. Babies had been born in the family. Cortney’s best friends were pregnant. Cortney’s cousin was on her school’s homecoming court.

Booher smiled and talked about how Cortney would have helped her cousin get dressed and do her makeup.

There were recurring events that Cortney would have enjoyed three more times. Booher said she had been looking forward to Thanksgiving and had told her grandma she wanted to make hot chocolate and watch Christmas movies together as soon as the movies were available.

Cortney would have even been able to play more games of softball with her uncle, which she enjoyed.

Cortney juggled three jobs, had just gotten a credit card and begun paying her own phone bill.

“She was starting her life,” Booher said. “She was working her way in to the real world, becoming an adult.”

Under the light of the picnic shelter, the group of family and friends grabbed candles and message-adorned balloons, walking out in the light rain to watch the balloons float away.

Ross Kiefer contributed

to this report.

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