Second of three articles
On a Saturday night when her sisters tried to persuade her to go out on the town, Shameka Fludd stayed home. Her workweek had been hectic -- tending children at a Laurel day-care center, then staying late on Friday to clean up. She was three months pregnant and lately more tired than usual.
Her suburban apartment in Columbia was comfortable, set on a tree-shrouded slope in a winding complex of similar units -- a long way from the troubled District neighborhoods where she grew up. At 23, she had two sweet kids, a good job and a close circle of relatives and friends.
Shirlita Colon's mother, Tawana Colon, right, and sister, Tysha Colon, talk with Catina Edwards, left, at court in the District while awaiting the sentencing of Donte Allen in Shirlita's killing.
(Juana Arias -- The Washington Post)
_____About This Series_____
The Toll: Researchers are just beginning to discover what has been a hidden risk of pregnancy: Pregnant women and new mothers are more likely to be victims of homicide than to die of any single natural cause, several statewide studies have shown.
The Victims: As public health experts focus new attention on homicide during pregnancy, the Washington region has become a focal point. Research rarely casts light on the lives of those who were slain or how violence entered their lives at such a pivotal time.
The Legacy: The tragedy of maternal homicide lingers in the lives of children left behind, some of them born as their mothers were dying. Older siblings sometimes witnessed the violence. The children often must be raised by their grandparents.
Video: Recovering at Ceeatta's House
Photo Gallery: The Missing Stories
Photo Gallery: Caring for a Lost Daughter's Son
Maternal Homicide in D.C. Area
_____From The Post_____
Mending Shattered Childhoods (The Washington Post, Dec 21, 2004)
Bittersweet Childhoods of Love and Loss (The Washington Post, Dec 21, 2004)
States Add Penalties For Death of Unborn (The Washington Post, Dec 20, 2004)
Many New or Expectant Mothers Die Violent Deaths (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
Researchers Stunned By Scope of Slayings (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
How the Series Was Reported (The Washington Post, Dec 19, 2004)
_____For Information or Help_____
National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-799-SAFE
D.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, 202-299-1181
Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence, 301-352-4574
Virginians Against Domestic Violence, 804-377-0335
The pregnancy had come as a surprise. Her circumstances were not ideal, not what a single mother would have chosen if life always happened according to wishes and plans. But she could not bear to have an abortion, she told friends. After five years as a day-care teacher, children had become her calling.
"You don't have to have anything to do with the baby," she told the father. But Tjane Marshall was already a father of two and said a baby would ruin his life, Fludd later told her sisters. His objections upset her, they said. But she did not change her mind.
The couple's clash of wills ended unexpectedly for Fludd in the dark morning hours of May 4, 2003.
That night, her children had stayed with relatives. Fludd was alone, lying in her bed, in a nightgown, prosecutors say, when Marshall dropped by her apartment and asked again about the pregnancy. On the floor near her bed was a copy of Lamaze magazine, with a big, bold cover headline that read: BIRTH.
Hours later, when police were summoned, the magazine was spattered with blood.
Only recently, research has begun to show that cases like Shameka Fludd's are far more common than anyone might have guessed. And as public health experts have begun to home in on the phenomenon of homicide during pregnancy, the Washington region has become a focal point.
Here, experts looking into whether maternal deaths were being undercounted in Maryland and the District discovered in separate studies that a surprising number of pregnancies ended in homicide. Independently, Virginia's chief medical examiner began to probe maternal deaths and identified that 12 percent of them are homicides in her state as well.
Expanding on these findings, The Washington Post conducted a year-long survey of state death record data and documented more than 1,367 maternal killings nationwide since 1990. As startling as the findings are, however, they represent only part of the toll, because no national system exists for tracking maternal homicides.
What has been missing from the research has been the collected stories of the women slain -- more than 125 in the Washington region alone -- who they were, what their relationships were like and how violence intersected their lives at such a pivotal time.
Even in states that track these cases, they are often little more than a checked box on a death-record form -- rarely emerging from the data as young women with lives and hopes and families.
Many, like Fludd, never knew they were in danger.
Unplanned but Undaunted
On Sunday, May 4, 2003, the phone rang again and again in Fludd's Columbia apartment. Her sisters called each other and asked: "Have you heard from Shameka?" By Sunday night, her grandmother, Louella Stukes, was worried that she might have become ill.
Maybe her pregnancy had caused medical complications, she remembers thinking.
She drove to Fludd's apartment and immediately noticed Fludd's minivan in the parking lot. But when Stukes knocked, no one answered. She tried her key, but the deadbolt was locked.
Finally she called Howard County police.
When police and firefighters finally got into Fludd's apartment, through a sliding door on the balcony, they found her lying in bed. She was dead -- with four bullet wounds.