HICKORY, N.C. – Everyone makes plans.

Hunter Jones and his cousin, Jake Robertson, hatched the best plans for their family trips to Hilton Head Island each summer. Lounging on the beach, games of catch, cavorting in the pool formed the core of any trip. A lizard hunt was added to the plan several years ago when Hunter Jones was about 11 years old.

“We found a bunch of them at once,” Hunter said with a smile. “We tried to take them back to the house. … Our parents wouldn’t let us keep them though.”

Jake Robertson was a planner. He was, in the words of his father and namesake, Jay Robertson, never an “off-the-cuff” type of child. Jake Robertson’s friend, Walker Hanvey, said when their group of friends went out, it was Jake Robertson’s way or the highway. He planned for everything.

Despite the trappings of youth any 17-year-old faces, Jake Robertson planned for life beyond high school.

“He really wanted to get into the FBI,” Jay Robertson said. “It kind of shocked me when we talked about it. But we did the research, and he was willing to do all the things you needed to do – in terms of community and volunteering things beyond just grades – to make sure that was a possibility.”

But which of the 15 tracts Jake Robertson would pursue if he lived his dream of joining the FBI is something his father and Jake Robertson’s friends will never know.

Jake Robertson died in an Aug. 31 crash that rocked Hickory High School and Hickory to their cores.

At the site of the crash, scores of Jake Robertson’s friends gathered Friday on what would have been his Senior Day – honoring his accomplishments in soccer and baseball – to grieve and to heal. A balloon release – colored in Jake Robertson’s favorite blue – followed by a prayer brought back memories and thoughts of what could have been.

“He would have gotten recognized tonight with the rest of the senior athletes,” HHS senior Jalen Witherspoon said. “We just wanted to make sure we let him know we remember him, that his story gets told.”

Returning to the site of his son’s death isn’t easy for Jay Robertson. The memorial – erected less than 24 hours after the crash – is covered in pictures of an always-smiling Jake. But as pictures fade under the glare of another setting sun, so too does the pain.

It helps, for Robertson and his wife, Amanda Robertson – Jake’s stepmother – that so many people love their son.

“It makes you proud as a father that even after, gosh, six months … you’ve got all these kids here that want to take their time to remember him,” Jay Robertson said.

Plans change. But those gathered at that field and many more plan to never let Jake Robertson’s story fade.

“His story’s been told worldwide,” Witherspoon said. “We won’t forget him.”

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