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Mending Shattered Childhoods

At school, he has learned to use his walker so well that he can run across the playground with it moving alongside him -- which he did on his birthday, leaving his grandmother behind.

"Good gracious!" she said. Chancellor beamed.

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

Adams said the medical experts believe cerebral palsy is not something that can be "cured," but her Christian faith tells her something else. "We believe he's on the road to a full recovery," she said.

Chancellor and his grandmother -- the "dream team," she calls them -- live in a subdivision in Charlotte, in a house with thick carpeting and framed photographs and a living room where Chancellor's playthings are easy to reach: building blocks, board books, a fire engine, a basketball game, an oversize Elmo.

When Cherica Adams died, Carruth fled the state rather than turn himself in and face murder charges. Authorities caught up with him in Tennessee -- hiding in the trunk of a car. In the end, he was convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, shooting into an occupied car and using a gun to try to kill an unborn child. He was acquitted of first-degree murder.

After he was sentenced to nearly 19 years in prison, he told CNN/Sports Illustrated that he had not been involved. "I feel guilty about none of it," he said. He said that his relationship with Adams had been overstated and that he did not know her last name until Lamaze class. "We were never boyfriend and girlfriend. . . . We slept together."

His attorney, David Rudolf, recently filed another appeal on Carruth's behalf. Rudolf maintains that Carruth is innocent. "He was found not guilty of the murder," Rudolf said in an interview. "He is not guilty of the conspiracy. He had no intention of hurting Cherica Adams." About Chancellor, the attorney said: "Clearly he feels terrible about how Chancellor is. What human being wouldn't be?" He added, "You look at Chancellor and you see Rae."

Just a year ago, Saundra Adams won a judgment of nearly $5.8 million in a civil suit she filed against Carruth and the three other men convicted in the case. The award came after Carruth decided not to contest the suit, but it may be mostly symbolic because Carruth and the others have no money that can be found, Adams said.

For Chancellor's sake and her own, and in keeping with her Christian beliefs, she said she has forgiven Carruth. "I'm raising his son, and I can't hold on to hateful feelings for him and raise his son," she said. Still, she added: "Justice needs to be served and is being served. I hold him accountable."

Adams stayed home with Chancellor for his first couple of years but is back at work now, supporting herself and her grandson -- "a challenge," she said. It helps that a close friend, Judy Williams, helps care for Chancellor when he is not in school. Williams is a founder of Mothers of Murdered Offspring -- in which Adams has become active.

Chancellor's birthday fell on the organization's annual Thanksgiving fellowship dinner and night of remembrance. So the birthday that started at the cemetery ended at a church hall in downtown Charlotte, where, one by one, grieving families lighted a candle and spoke a few words about their slain relatives.

When it was her turn, Adams introduced Chancellor. "Today is a bittersweet day for us," she said, "because it is five years ago today that my daughter was gunned down and today is also his birthday, his fifth birthday."

She set her lighted candle beside a photograph of her daughter.

Just before the evening was over, Williams took the podium to talk about Chancellor. She asked the boy and his family to come forward. Through Chancellor, she said, "I've learned that there is a God up above, and He determines who lives and who doesn't."

The applause was loud.

Then, for one last time on his fifth birthday, Chancellor listened to the sounds of "Happy Birthday," this time delivered by a crowd of 200. When it ended, his grandmother asked Chancellor in a voice that the whole room could hear: "How are you?"

Chancellor spoke proudly.

"Good," he said.

Staff writer David S. Fallis and staff research Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.

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