A decade after Susan Smith strapped her sons in their car seats and let her car roll into a lake, carrying the boys to their deaths, residents are trying to move on.

But for some, the case still evokes strong emotions, even hatred toward Smith.

Prosecutor Tommy Pope, who tried Smith for the crime, said he recently started a conversation in a store with a "little old lady." She was sweet and polite until the subject of Smith came up, then the woman began to "sound like a sailor," he said.

Smith's boys -- Michael, 3, and 14-month-old Alex -- disappeared Oct. 25, 1994. She told deputies they had been taken in a carjacking and cried on national television as she begged for their safe return.

Nine days later, Smith confessed, and the boys' bodies were found in the car, submerged a few feet from a boat ramp at John D. Long Lake in Union County.

Family members and many officials involved in the case will not comment. Smith, sentenced to life in prison, is not allowed to give interviews.

Smith was convicted in July 1995. Pope had sought the death penalty, and he considers the case a loss.

A photo of Michael and Alex -- given to him during the trial by the boys' father, David Smith -- still sits in his office, reminding him of why his job is important. "Too often, we lose focus on the victims all too easily," Pope said.

The case incensed the black community because Smith alleged that a black man carjacked her and drove off with the children.

"It had the makings of one of the worst scenarios you could come across," said Howard Free, owner of Free's Shoe Shop, across the street from the courthouse where Smith's trial was held.

Healing grew out of a faith-based effort, said the Rev. A.L. Brackett, one of the church leaders who worked to bring calm. Blacks and whites joined for prayer vigils at churches.

"Instead of dividing the races at this particular time any further . . . it brought them closer together," Brackett said.

But 10 years later, he said, the sense of racial unity "wore off," and many people have returned to old habits.

Smith is up for parole on Nov. 4, 2024.