‘They didn’t deserve this’: Survivor remembers parents killed in NC attack

North Carolina news

WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – It’s been almost two years since Dennis and Terri Rowell were brutally murdered, but dozens of photographs and posters are proudly displayed in the Rowell house.

Irene Rowell was home when a family friend attacked her parents and nearly took her life on Jan. 9, 2019. She says her ROTC training kicked in and she went limp, and the assailant left, thinking she was dead.

“If I would have fought him or tried to fight him off my parents or anything, I wouldn’t be here today, I’d be cremated in the box. I would not be sitting here watching my niece and my nephew grow up,” said Irene Rowell.

RELATED: Man pleads guilty in murder of NC couple, attacking their teen daughter

Rowell says the man who hurt her was no stranger, and had known the family for a decade. He had watched Irene grow up.

“We trusted him, we allowed him to come into our home. We gave him a bed to sleep on and this is how he repaid us,” said Irene Rowell. “My parents…they would give you the last dollar that they had, or the shirt off their back…they didn’t deserve this.”

Torrence Helms and the home where the murders happened. WECT photos

Irene says her mom was upbeat and funny, and her father was a Marine Corp veteran, known for cooking meals for his neighbors and taking care of his friends.

“Everyone says ‘give it time, it’ll get easier.’ No, it doesn’t get easier—you just learn how to cope with it,” said Rowell.

Irene lost a lot of blood in the attack and didn’t know if she would ever walk again, but today she moves well, and most of her physical wounds have healed, however, the emotional scars and the weight of losing both of her parents so unexpectedly is a different story.

She says her niece and nephew have given her strength to go on and keep her parents’ memory alive.

“Every year we have a memorial service on the day that they passed away and we make posters, do posters people can sign, and we just throw roses or any type of flowers into the ocean for them. We really just try to honor them in the best way we could,” said Irene Rowell.

The path forward, though, is made easier now that the family has justice. The man who killed her parents will be in jail for the rest of his life.

Irene and her sister say now that the case is closed with a conviction, they can sleep soundly knowing he wont be able to hurt anyone else.

“It’s definitely gonna be easier for us. We don’t have to put our life on hold anymore. We put our life on hold the past year, two years now, and we can really move forward with our lives and just really cope with it,” said Rowell.

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