“A reporter asked me (Monday) night, ‘what is the one thing that you are going to miss about Joe?’ And I gave a false answer because I was still numb and in shock,” Smith, Jennings’ grandmother, said. “I thought about it overnight and I can’t really think of just one thing that I’m going to miss about Joe. If I had to pick one and only one, I’d say his life. That is what I’m going to miss the most, is his life. There is more than one thing that made Joseph, Joseph, so how can you pull one thing out of that.”
Smith, who has lived in Ottawa for about three years, was one of about 60 people who paid their respects to the late Jennings Tuesday evening at a candlelight vigil which took place near the east entrance/exit of Orscheln Farm and Home, 2008 S. Princeton St., Ottawa.
“It means a lot to the family because it is a vigil on how much Joe was loved, not only by his family, but by the lives that he touched,” Smith said. “When he touched them, they remembered him, and it is so good to see how many people that wasn’t within his family that loved him.”
Candles and plastic cups to make lights for the vigil were donated by local businesses and churches according to attendees Tuesday night.
Jennings, 18, Ottawa, died Saturday evening as a result of a shooting near the Orscheln parking lot involving officers from the Ottawa Police Department and the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. An investigation into the incident is being conducted by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Smith said during the vigil that Joe enjoyed a variety of things and he was a helping person.
“He loved dirt bikes, he loved animals and he loved water,” Smith said. “He liked to swim and he loved helping people. This vigil here tonight, from what I am understanding is from one particular student that he went to school with who was getting bullied and pushed around by some kids and Joe stood up for her.
When it came to kids, Jennings kept a strong relationship with his younger brother, Isaiah, 10, Chelsea Smith, a relative of Jennings, said.
“He loved kids,” she said. “Kids were a big thing to him. His brother was his best friend. They were close.”
The two spent a lot of time doing things together, Brandy Smith, Jenning’s aunt, said.
“They liked to play board games and Joey would take him fishing, and on the dirt bikes and four wheelers,” she said.
Jennings was the only one out of his family to get a high school diploma, Brandy Smith said, and was pursuing a career in welding at Neosho County Community College in Garnett. Jennings kept up his grades despite struggling with anxiety, depression and seizures, she said.
“He made the duck (on his memorial near the entrance of Orscheln),” Brandy Smith said. “He really liked welding. He was good at it...He was good at everything. He had A’s and B’s in school. He struggled sometimes with his seizures, but he’d get his grades back up within a week.”
The dream Jennings left was to be an underwater welder, Charlene Smith said. It combined two of his favorite things: water and welding.
“He had a lot of dreams,” Charlene Smith said. “His present dream, you know your dreams change as you go along, was to become an underwater welder. That was something he wanted to do because of his love for water. He absolutely loved it. It is a shame that he’s not going to be able to fulfill his dreams now and create new ones. It’s really unfortunate because he was a good boy.”
Above everything, Jennings had overcome a lot of hardships in his life, she said.
“He had his moments to where he wasn’t doing so good, but all of us have those moments,” Charlene Smith said. “Joseph has overcome a lot, he really has. From where he came from, it would have been so easy for him to go down that road, but he chose to do better and to strive to rise above the drama and the chaos and the drinking and the drugs and the fighting and all of that.”