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Mending Shattered Childhoods

Police rushed to the scene. Still conscious, she again told them what had happened. At the hospital, doctors worked to save her life and delivered her baby -- Chancellor Lee -- in an emergency C-section. The bullet had missed the baby by an inch.

Cherica, 24, died after 28 days in the hospital.

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 about six months later that a neurologist showed Saundra Adams scans of Chancellor's brain. The damage was widespread, she recalled. "They were painting a very bleak picture of his development. They made it sound like he would never be able to walk or talk."

Different Triumphs

Five years after his mother was shot, Chancellor Adams sat with eight classmates and their teachers in a bright classroom with shapes and numbers and letters on the walls. A large chocolate birthday cake sat before him, his grandmother nearby.

One boy asked about a small photo pinned to Chancellor's brand-new moss green sweater.

"That's his mommy," his grandmother said.

"She died," the classmate said, knowingly.

Soon the cake was aglow with a large candle shaped like a 5, and the singing started and Chancellor himself was aglow, listening. When everyone clapped, Chancellor clapped with them.

The little boy asked about the photo again.

"How did his mother die?"

Chancellor's grandmother paused, then said: "His mother got shot with a gun. Somebody was very bad."

This is a fact of Chancellor's life.

It is why he has cerebral palsy, why his legs need braces and why his triumphs are different from the average 5-year-old's. Chancellor can pull himself up from sitting to standing. He can stand on his own for a count of 20.

He has learned about 12 words -- including "good," which he uses eagerly when someone asks him, "How are you?"

He has also learned how to raise his hands above his head and sway in praise, which he does while sitting in his grandmother's lap at church and in his car seat when the radio is on and his grandmother is driving.

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