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Mending Shattered Childhoods

Newborns, Siblings and Substitute Caregivers Endure Reminders of Loss

By Donna St. George
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page A01

Last of three articles


Chancellor Lee Adams sat on his mother's grave, gazing at the bronze marker that bore her name. It was his birthday, and he had just turned 5, which was exactly how many years it had been since the shooting that took her life.

Chancellor Adams was born 10 weeks premature after an emergency C-section and was left with cerebral palsy. He uses his walker so well that he can dash across the playground. (Photos 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_____
Bittersweet Childhoods of Love and Loss (The Washington Post, Dec 21, 2004)
Violence Intersects Lives of Promise (The Washington Post, Dec 20, 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

With one arm around his back, his grandmother gestured at a lush bouquet they had brought. "Look at your mommy's flowers," she said. Chancellor smiled.

Five years earlier, he was delivered from his mortally wounded mother in an emergency Caesarean section -- 10 weeks premature and blue from lack of oxygen. The trauma left him with cerebral palsy. He wears braces on his legs, needs help to walk and speaks only a handful of words.

"Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you," his grandmother sang to him at the graveside. "Happy birthday, dear Chancellor. . . ."

It has been like this, death and birth inextricably bound, since his famous father arranged the killing of his mother. Rae Carruth was an all-American wide receiver, a $3.7 million, first-round draft pick for the Carolina Panthers. Now he is in prison, convicted of conspiracy in the 1999 killing of Cherica Adams.

Chancellor's grandmother showed him the big purple balloons they had brought for the occasion -- each tagged with a small photo of Cherica and a verse from the Bible. One by one, they released the balloons into the cloudy November sky.

"I love you, Mommy," his grandmother offered.

Chancellor broke into a wide smile.

"Yeaaaaah," he said.

'It Was a Miracle'

No one knows exactly how many children like Chancellor are rescued from the wombs of their dying mothers.

But it happened in 2000 when Yolanda Coles, 34, was eight months pregnant and fatally shot outside her Richmond apartment. It happened in 2002 when Tara Chambers, 29, was shot in her Concord, N.C., home and in 1998 when Sherry Culp, 36, was shot outside her workplace in Springfield.

Sometimes these children do not survive. Doctors rush to save them, and families pray, but they die because the trauma has been too much. Culp's daughter lived two days. Chambers's daughter held on for 33 days. "They tried everything they could," recalled grandmother Johnsie Tucker, "but we had to give up."

In other cases, children make it but face debilitating injuries. In Portsmouth, Va., Breonna McRae survived her pregnant mother's shooting in 2002 but suffered brain damage from lack of oxygen. She still does not walk, talk or swallow. She has had pneumonia four times, falling so ill her grandmother LouAnne Sweet has wondered, "Is she really going to make it?" Breonna is doing better lately, the family says, but everything is one day at a time.

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