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Mending Shattered Childhoods

Then, against the odds, there are such children as Ter-ron Marquise Oglesby.

His mother, Damita Oglesby, 29, was severely wounded in a stabbing in Atlanta when she was four months pregnant. After three months in a coma, she went into labor. Ter-ron was delivered without complications, a healthy baby boy.

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

"It was a miracle," said his grandmother Carolyn Oglesby, who recalled that tears ran down her daughter's face when the baby was placed on her chest in the hospital, even though she was still in a coma. Seven weeks after Ter-ron's birth, Damita Oglesby died.

A Washington Post examination of maternal homicides -- which used death-record data to document more than 1,367 killings of pregnant women and postpartum mothers nationwide -- found that one legacy of these homicides is a population of children left to face almost unimaginable consequences. Their mothers are gone. Many fathers are in prison or dead. Their extended families are deep in grief and often reeling financially.

Babies are born in this moment of horror. More often, there are older siblings. In Virginia alone, 68 children were left behind after the killing of their pregnant or postpartum mothers since 1990, The Post's analysis shows. Nationally, in one year -- 2002 -- there were at least an additional 62 of these children.

Some of them struggle not just with loss, but also with memory. They witnessed their mother's death, or heard the crime unfold, or awoke in the morning to discover her body.

Sally Blakely said her 5-year-old grandson had seen enough violence in the house before his mother's killing to imagine it. Erskala Blakely, 22, of Richmond was postpartum with twins and trying to leave the abusive father of her four children when he strangled her.

For weeks, the 5-year-old carried his mother's picture around the house, dwelling on how he might have saved her. His grandmother recalled: "I had to tell him, 'Baby, you were only 5. There was nothing you could have done.' "

The hurt of it all is too intense to ever go away, said Georgia Simmons. Now 62, she has been raising her grandson for nearly 14 years, since the day her pregnant daughter was shot in Richmond and her baby survived an emergency Caesarean section. Christmases are still hard -- she can hardly bear to hear the carols that her daughter loved -- but January is difficult, too: the anniversary of Deborah Randall's slaying.

"Every death day of hers is a birthday of his," she said. "It hits my gut very deep."

'I've Been Shot'

Back in 1999, Chancellor Lee Adams might have seemed bound for a life of privilege and possibility. His father had been widely seen as the future of the Carolina franchise after distinguishing himself as a leading National Football League rookie. Chancellor's mother was a onetime model who attended college for two years, then returned to Charlotte to try her hand in real estate and business.

The couple met at a summer pool party. Cherica Adams had socialized with other athletes, but when she met Carruth, she called her mother, Saundra Adams, and said, "Mom, I've just met my soul mate." That night, she brought him home to meet her father.

Their relationship was off and on, however. Cherica Adams went to Atlanta for a time. Carruth had many other girlfriends. In spring 1999, Adams found out she was pregnant -- and both of them were surprised. Adams took eight home-pregnancy tests before she was convinced, her mother said.

Carruth seemed happy at first, Adams told her mother, but then he asked her to get an abortion. Adams said no.

Once pregnant, she grew to like the idea -- playing tapes of Mozart for her fetus, drinking high-protein smoothies and shopping until she acquired a full baby wardrobe from birth to toddler sizes. "She wanted this to be the perfect baby," recalled her mother. "She was forever rubbing her belly and showing us."

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