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WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. — When Chris Hill heard from a friend that Garnett Spears was dying at Westchester Medical Center in January, he reached out to Garnett's mom, Lacey Spears, in the only way he knew how: He sent her a Facebook friend request. Then he waited. And waited. It's a strange way for a father to get news about his son, but Hill tried it, anyway. He had never met Garnett, hadn't seen Spears since shortly after their boy was born five years earlier.

Spears, 26, had taken him from Alabama, where Garnett was born, to Florida and then on to Fellowship Community in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y. And now Garnett-Paul Thompson Spears was dying nearly a thousand miles away from Hill.

And Hill was waiting.

On Jan. 23, 2014, the day Garnett died, Hill went on to the public part of Spears' Facebook page, copied a photo and shared it on his page, with the status update: "This is my other son Garnett, and he is 5 years old. I never get to see him because his mom just up, and moved to New York. Well, Friday he had some severe seizures that caused his brain to swell, and now is brain dead, and on life support…. Even though I don't get to see him, I feel like he's been with me this hole (sic) time. IM not going to lie. I cried for hours when I found this out, and it will continue to hurt till the day I die."

VIDEO: Mother tells tale of two fathers
LIVE CHAT: Thursday at 7 p.m. EDT, @lohud

And still he waited for Spears to click on an icon on Facebook to let him back into her world in the smallest way, a way that would open dozens of other photos that she shared with her friends, including graphic photos of Garnett on his deathbed. Spears had spent the boy's five years chronicling his life on Twitter, MySpace and Facebook.

Hill concedes with self-deprecating humor that alcohol may have cost him brain cells, and his memory isn't what it was, but he's certain of one thing: Garnett Spears was his son, even if Spears told people otherwise.

A stout, balding 30-year-old garage-door installer, he now lives in Athens, Ala., with a girlfriend.

Early encounters

In 2008, Hill lived in the Cedar Key Apartments in Decatur, Ala., downstairs from the two-bedroom apartment where Spears lived with her older sister, Rebecca. To get to her apartment, Spears had to pass Hill's.

Before he met Spears, he would joke about her.

"We used to make fun of her, called her 'the predator,' " Hill recalled of watching with his ex-girlfriend as Spears walked without expression to her apartment. "She was quiet. You'd really have to stop her, say 'Hey, hey, hey' for her to talk to you. She was cold, or just very antisocial. Another breed altogether, like nothing I've ever dealt with before."

One day, Spears knocked at Hill's door to ask a favor.

"She asked me if I'd put a baby crib together for her," said Hill. During this period, Spears was caring for Jonathon Strain, a friend's baby, and would often keep him overnight and on weekends. In fact, she told some friends "JonJon" was her own child.

"I started putting it together and she started asking me personal questions," he said. "I think she was lonely. I hadn't seen anybody go up to her apartment in some time. I just figured she needed some attention."

In the days that followed, that "attention" became sex; "neighbors with benefits," as Hill puts it.

"We hooked up for a little while," he said.

The relationship lasted a few months then Spears broke it off, he said. Soon after, she told Hill she was pregnant. They talked about marriage, even started looking at books to find a name for the baby.

"She said 'I like Garnett.' I said, 'No. Let's keep looking,' " Hill recalled. "We were acting like we were a couple. I was trying to get her to marry me and see if we could make it work."

Then something happened. Spears changed.

"She went from wanting to be married to saying 'He's not your kid,' " he said.

It was the first indication of a story brewing and that Spears planned to deny him access to the baby she was carrying.

A father named Blake

In the years that followed, Lacey Spears told friends — and even the slightest acquaintances — that her "soul mate and Garnett's Daddy" was a police officer named Blake who died in a car accident.

Spears created a blog and devoted its only two posts to the loss of Blake.

On Sept. 18, 2012, she wrote: "We have together survived nearly 365 days, a complete year without Blake, my soul mate and Garnett's Daddy. … The past year has been the hardest year of my life."

Mention of this "soul mate" on social media had Spears' Alabama friends scratching their heads.

"(Blake) was never in any pictures when Garnett was born, but she was crying about him on Facebook posts, saying he was the love of her life, that he was always there for her," said Riley Vaughn, 26, who knew Spears when she lived in Decatur. "That's why I stopped Facebooking her. I was just done with her after that, after realizing that most of the stuff she was saying just wasn't true."

PART ONE: Boy's unexplained death reveals mom's lies
STORY: Mom chronicled son's final days over social media

Hill wasn't in any pictures when Garnett was born, either. In fact, he said he never met the blond and bubbly little boy his mother called "Garnett the Great," even though he lived one floor down. Instead, he would catch glimpses of the newborn boy with Spears' comings and goings.

"We had already split up, and she was saying he wasn't mine, and to leave her alone. I only saw her, and him, when she would get out of her car to walk upstairs. I would hear her car door shut, and hear him cry. Then I would look out of my window to try and get a look at him."

Hill said Spears threatened to call police if he didn't keep his distance.

He vaguely remembers Spears mentioning a man named Blake as "an ex, way before me ... dark hair."

Hill can't explain Spears' change of heart, stomping any talk of marriage.

"All of a sudden, she just acted like I didn't exist. She just ended it. She just wanted to be a mother and not have a father involved."

Garnett-Paul Thompson Spears weighed 6 pounds, 14 ounces when he was born Dec. 3, 2008, in Huntsville Hospital. The birth announcement in the Decatur Daily newspaper lists no father.

Police are digging into the stories Spears told, as they investigate the death of her 5-year-old son. Her lawyer, David Sachs, declined to comment.

The Blake story is among a string of narratives Spears presented to her online public, sad stories that won her sympathy, prayers and attention from a social media circle who followed her efforts to raise her sickly son alone and to make him well.

Ginger Dabbs-Anderson was another close friend who would have Spears and Garnett over to her house and then read online later that Spears said she was with Blake at the time.

"She was over here, and I never saw anybody named Blake, or whatever his name was. I think it was a made-up picture, a fabricated situation. That was not even his daddy. His daddy, I met him. He lives in Decatur. Chris."

Reconnecting with Garnett's father

A week after Garnett died, Spears accepted Hill's friend request.

The wait was over.

They started texting, and had a couple of phone conversations. Years had passed since their brief physical relationship, but the two communicated as two grieving parents who had just lost their child. In the texts, Spears laid to rest the idea of Blake.

"I need you right now," she texted on Feb. 18. "This is OUR SON."

On Feb. 19, she texted: "Chris, you know we will always be a part of each others lifes (sic) for the rest of our time here. We have a son together."

"We may not have worked out but now we both need each other. Friends at the very least. Do you agree?"

In other messages, Spears texted her pain: "I WANT G Back" and "I feel OK at moments and then it hits me like a thousand pound weight." She later texted "I want to die."

Spears also noted the police investigation.

"I know they are looking at me," she wrote to Hill on Feb. 20. "I WOULD NEVER HURT MY BABY."

In one text, Hill asks Spears about the news reports that suggest police are investigating whether Garnett was poisoned with salt. He writes, "Did they tell u about a salt deal?"

Spears replies: "What?" ... "Salt?" ... "What does this mean." Then "Just in disbelief."

Hill comforts her, then asks why Spears lied about Garnett's father being a man named Blake who died in a car crash.

"I wanted to protect Garnett," she replied. "... Everything I DID or said was to protect G."

Live chat

Join The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News reporters Shawn Cohen and Peter D. Kramer for a behind-the-scenes look at "Losing Garnett the Great." In a live chat Thursday, March 27, at 7 p.m., they will answer reader questions and share insights into their reporting process. Ask your questions in advance by tweeting: @lohud.

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