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Memorial set for 5 slain kids; dad heads to court

COLUMBIA (AP) — The five children who police say were slain by their father will be remembered at a memorial in Mississippi on Friday, while 500 miles away, their father will make his first court appearance.

Timothy Ray Jones Jr., 32, is accused of killing his three boys and two girls, wrapping their bodies in separate trash bags and driving around for days with their decomposing bodies before dumping them on a rural hilltop in Alabama. Authorities released those details earlier this week at a news conference where a photo of each child’s smiling face was displayed on a large screen. The emotional sheriff said at the time he wouldn’t release the names until autopsies were done.

Divorce records said they were: Merah, 8; Elias, 7; Nahtahn, 6; Gabriel, 2, and Elaine Marie, 1.

Jones killed his five children at home, “by violent means,” about a week before his ex-wife reported them missing, Acting Lexington County Sheriff Lewis McCarty said in news release issued late Thursday. Lexington County Coroner Earl Wells conducted autopsies and ruled each of the deaths a homicide. The cause of the children’s deaths is still being investigated, Wells said in a statement.

At the Amory Church of Christ in Mississippi, a poem will be read for each child. There will be a balloon ceremony and a slide show.

On Thursday, in South Carolina, social services officials said they visited Jones’ homes a dozen times in the last three years.

The children seemed happy and well-adjusted despite occasional spankings, and the family took a summer trip to Disney World and the beach, according to documents released by the Department of Social Services. Authorities never found anything serious enough to take the children away, but the documents show Jones as a single father and computer engineer struggling to raise his children.

In the social worker’s last visit — two weeks before the children’s disappearance — a social worker summed up Jones’ life: “Dad appears to be overwhelmed as he is unable to maintain the home, but the children appear to be clean, groomed and appropriately dressed,” wrote the case worker, whose name was blacked out, on an Aug. 13 report.

On Aug. 28, Jones picked up his children from school and day care. McCarty said the children were likely killed soon after that, with Jones loading their bodies in trash bags in his Cadillac Escalade.

An intoxicated and agitated Jones was arrested at a DUI checkpoint in Smith County, Mississippi, on Saturday, and authorities said he had a form of synthetic marijuana on him. Officers found children’s clothes, blood and maggots in his SUV.

Three days later, he led police to the bodies on a remote hillside in Alabama. Authorities said they still don’t know his motive, how the children were killed and why they were buried there.

Jones was returned to South Carolina on Thursday to face murder charges.

In October 2011, Jones confronted a case worker who demanded he clean up the clothes and blankets scattered on the floor, boxes of food on top of the counter with tools scattered around them where the children could be hurt and an open air vent, where a kid could step and break a leg. The argument got so heated the case worker called deputies, and Jones calmed down when they arrived.

Three days later, the case worker returned and wrote: “observed the home to be VERY VERY VERY CLEAN.”

Case workers made follow up visits over the next several months as Jones’ marriage fell apart amid allegations his wife cheated on him with a neighbor.

Jones’ wife talked about being lonely and what a mistake the couple thought they made moving from Mississippi, where Jones’ family lived. They moved after he got a degree at Mississippi State University and was hired making $71,000-a-year job as a computer engineer at Intel.

More than a decade ago, when Jones was 19, he was convicted of cocaine possession and a crime spree in the suburbs of Chicago, where he grew up, that consisted of car theft, burglary and passing forged checks on his father’s account.

“Typical teenager doing stupid stuff, that’s about it,” Jones’ father, Tim Jones Sr., told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Amory, Mississippi.

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