The hidden side of politics

A grandmother’s love, devotion, remembrances on Mother’s Day

Reported by ESPN:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Cherica Adams was eight months pregnant and driving home late from a movie on the night of Nov. 16, 1999, as her boyfriend and father of her unborn child, Carolina Panthers receiver Rae Carruth, drove ahead of her separately. On a quiet road in South Charlotte, Carruth slowed. Two men following in another car pulled up along Adams, boxing her in before opening fire. Four bullets pierced her body, and they left her for dead.

Adams, a young Charlotte native starting a career in real estate, managed to call 911 and explain what happened. She survived long enough for an ambulance to rush her to the hospital. With her mother, Saundra Adams, holding vigil, doctors worked to heal Cherica and delivered her son by emergency Caesarean section. After Cherica slipped out of consciousness, they laid the baby on her chest. It was the only way she would hold her son, Chancellor Lee Adams. After nearly a month in a coma, Cherica Adams died on Dec. 14, 1999.

Police searched for Carruth and found him on Dec. 15, hiding in the trunk of a car in Tennessee. In the weeks before her daughter died, Saundra Adams had guarded her grandson, using a blanket to shield him from curious eyes. Soon, though, she let friends hold Chancellor while she spoke on “Oprah,” attended meetings for the Mothers of Murdered Offspring support group and gave a victim-impact statement.

Carruth, who maintained he had been caught up in a drug deal gone wrong, was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison. Prosecutors said he hired a hitman to kill Cherica Adams because of her refusal to abort their unborn child. Van Brett Watkins, the hitman who said Carruth hired him, pleaded guilty to his role in the killing and was sentenced to more than 50 years. Watkins died in a North Carolina prison on Dec. 3, 2023.

Before Carruth was released from prison in October 2018, Saundra Adams told reporters about her desire for him to bond with his son and said she planned to take Chancellor to meet Carruth. But shortly before walking free, Carruth penned a letter to WBTV in Charlotte saying he planned to seek custody of his then-18-year-old son. Saundra Adams balked, and Carruth quickly recanted.

Since then, Saundra and Chancellor have lived quietly in their Charlotte home, peppering travels in between therapy appointments, church events and Saundra’s continued visits to prisons where she discusses forgiveness with convicted murderers. Chancellor, who was born with cerebral palsy, is 24 now — the same age his mother was when she died. Saundra Adams says Chancellor is thriving, having learned to walk and speak short sentences despite doctors’ early cautions that he likely would never leave a wheelchair. He graduated from high school in 2021.

Saundra Adams credits her faith for allowing her to care for her grandson since birth. She and Chancellor call Cherica “Mommy Angel.”

ESPN’s interviews with Saundra Adams are excerpted below, edited for clarity and length. She discusses her views on her daughter, the meaning of Mother’s Day, seeing Chancellor grow up, faith and forgiveness — and whether she would allow Carruth to visit his son.

Coello: How do you remember Cherica on Mother’s Day?

Adams: I know it sounds strange, but we travel. I haven’t been to my church on Mother’s Day since 2007, since my mom died. We would always just be traveling, usually we go to some body of water, because that’s my happy place.

I have a friend, another mother whose daughter was murdered about two years ago, and they’re going to trial [in mid-May]. We were talking and she said to me that she just needed to get away — her and her husband hadn’t gone anywhere since their daughter died. And it just came into my spirit right then and there: I got a whole week [at a beach house], but I’m only going to stay three or four days at the most, and I want you and your husband to come and spend the rest of the time at the beach. So I’m going to come home, and I’ll be home for church on Sunday. When I told my pastor, nobody could really believe it.

I used to spend all this money to buy flowers for the cemetery. But people got selfish … they just go to the cemetery and steal the floral arrangements and sell them at flea markets around the city. So after a while I said, I’m just not spending that money. Because Cherica isn’t in no cemetery, she’s in our hearts.

You know, I’ll just buy a small bouquet. But I’ll go all out with giving myself flowers, because that’s what she did for me on Mother’s Day. She would give me some of the best cards — and I probably still have all her cards.

Mother’s Day was especially significant because it was on Mother’s Day that she told me she was pregnant. That was my Mother’s Day gift that year, that I was going to get a grandson.

[Since then,] I don’t think that a year has gone by that [my friend] Cynthia doesn’t send me a Mother’s Day card, because that was one of me and Cherica’s favorite holidays. Cynthia knew that Chancellor was not able to go out and get me a card, and there was nobody close to me that would probably do this. So even from that very first year, she would send me a card and she would say she and [Chancellor] would get together and he would help pick out the cards for me. She wrote me some special messages from him.

Q: What parts of motherhood were you most excited to share with Cherica?

A: She got to hold Chancellor, and when we laid him on her chest, oh my goodness, the machines just went crazy. I know she sensed his presence, and she knew that he was OK and he was in good hands. And I think that’s what made her transition peaceful. That she could leave this room knowing that her son was going to be taken care of.

And I know he remembers it. I still use a monitor to monitor his room, and he’ll be talking, saying things. I’ll go in and say, “Who are you talking to?” And he’ll tell me, “Mommy Angel.” I know he senses her presence.

One of the reasons I wanted to be called G-mom is … I never want to leave her out of the equation. She always wanted to be a mom, she would say she wanted a whole team of kids, she wanted a bunch of kids. I don’t want to shelter Chancellor, and I want him to know all of his family. I can’t just be selfish and keep him to myself.

Q: Before Cherica died, what did you and she expect life to be like when Chancellor arrived? Have you held on to any of the plans she made?

A: Ironically we did watch the movie [“Labor of Love”] where the mom ended up carrying her grandchild for her daughter. I remember Cherica asking me, “Mom, if I needed you to do that, would you do that for me?” And I said, “You know I would.”

She had been a nanny for a number of years, so I watched her with children. She loved children — although it was kind of funny, she couldn’t tolerate bad smells. I remember on occasion she would call me over when the baby made a big poop in his pants. She’s like, “Mom, I’m about to throw up, I can’t deal with this.” And I go over to the house.

I was 100% totally committed to helping her with this child. When [Cherica] went to purchase her condo … she got a three-bedroom so that I would have a room when I came over to stay.

She had already told me what her likes and dislikes were, and I have really honored those, because she was a real stickler. She didn’t want him having a lot of sweets, so I would tell her I’m not going give him any sweets — except for when he comes to visit me, and then I’m going to send him home with a sugar high for her to deal with.

We would laugh about it, but Chancellor has never had a cavity.

She let me know what things were important. She really liked traveling, and she loved music, especially jazz. I remember her buying this device, she would hook it up to her belly and play Bach and Beethoven, because she said this stuff makes the baby smart at math and logic.

So I’ve honored that as well, because we travel around a lot and listen to music. We love going to jazz festivals. … For his birthday we went to Florida, and I took him to see Patti Labelle.

I am trying to let Chancellor see as much of the world as I can provide for him, because I knew she liked travel and she would’ve wanted that for him.

She would be designer everything, and I’m just so not like that. She bought him Jordan shoes in a 3-month-old size before she passed away, and she bought all these designer baby clothes. And when he grew out of that, I was going to Walmart and Target but I thought, “Oh Lord, I know Cherica is turning over in her grave.” So one thing I do is I try to keep him sharp. He loves dressing and he knows when he’s dressed up. … He loves his hats. So he goes to church, he has a nice suit with a matching hat and everything’s matched to a T. We try to coordinate our colors.

Q: What was it like to take care of an infant while grieving your daughter?

A: When you’re raising a small child with special needs, you don’t have a whole lot of time just to sit and think on negative stuff.

At first I never let Chancellor see my emotion. I would just have my quiet times at night and just get it out of me. But as he got old, I felt like it was only fair to him to express my emotion, because that makes you a well-rounded person. You don’t know how much joy is in your life if you’ve never had any pain.

From an infant, I have always told him exactly what happened, even when I knew he wasn’t understanding me. What I wanted to instill in him is that he was born of love, and his dad made a terrible mistake and he did a horrible thing. And now Mommy Angel is in heaven, and now his dad is in prison. But I wanted him to always know that he was loved, and I want him to know how hard his mom fought to keep him alive. So he’s always been told how strong his mom was and how she loved on him.

Q: Does anything about him remind you of his mom?

A: Definitely the [love for] music. And he just likes a calm atmosphere — she was always a mediator and kept the peace, even between her friends. So he’s kind of that way. The first time that I really saw him crying, other than [because of] physical needs, it was because some other child was in distress. He’s very empathetic, and so we try to keep him in peaceful kinds of atmospheres.

He has taught me so much more than I ever knew before of unconditional love. And more than unconditional love — I didn’t know how I have so much patience in me. Oh my goodness I didn’t know I could be so patient.

That’s why I said I don’t believe that God gives you any burden you can’t bear. Because he’s not expecting us to bear it alone, he expects us to cast the care of it over to him. And I do that, and I’m able to be a lot more patient and tolerant.

So I just tend to do everything with my first thought as: What is the loving thing to do? It’s not always what is the thing I feel like doing, but what is the loving thing to do? And I’m evolving even more and more as the years go by.

With that, this year more than any year before I’m really open to wanting to have a conversation and wanting Rae to really meet his son. He met him once before, but he was a year old, he hasn’t really seen him since then.

I used to want to him to see him so maybe it would strike some remorse in him. But that’s not even the goal. The goal is I want him to see his son and see how well he’s doing and how he’s still living what I consider a normal life. And he’s doing it in spite of all the adversity that he’s had to come through. And I think a lot of that I think is attributed to his father. He had to be strong-willed and he had to be disciplined, because you just don’t get to the NFL [otherwise]. So I knew some of the qualities that Chancellor shows, especially with his physical stuff for physical therapies, and he’s so determined that he’s so strong — I believe a lot of that comes from his dad.

As the years have gone on, and especially this year, I’m looking at the whole side of Chancellor’s family that he doesn’t know. And you know, it could only bring more love into his life, even if it’s not from Rae directly. Somebody in his family is going to be receptive. So I’m open to that. … I know it’s going to happen because God has started to put it in my spirit.

One of Rae’s brothers has reached out to a local newscaster here … and he did leave a number and express that he would like to talk to me … this one I’m really starting to feel good about. I’m sure that soon I probably will reach out to him, because he has a family of his own to see. God will give me the right words at the right time.

Q: When Rae Carruth was in prison, you said you’d like to have him connect with Chancellor upon his release. Then he asked for custody and you stepped back. How did your mind change over the years?

A: I just want Chancellor to know that he is loved unconditionally, because he has taught me so much unconditional love. That’s why I had to forgive Rae Carruth early on — because I’m raising his son and I just don’t think there’s any way you can raise somebody’s kid and hate them.

So I made a decision — it definitely wasn’t about a feeling, because I felt like I hated him. But my Christian faith would not allow me to hate him and raise his son … I had to make that decision over and over again.

My forgiving Rae wasn’t depending on him asking me for forgiveness. The forgiveness was for me and Chancellor to move on past what happened. I didn’t want all those negative emotions or any kind of thing like that to really seep in to [Chancellor’s] spirit.

[Carruth] once, during the trial, he asked me to see him. He thought he was going to be able to take pictures and use it to show that he was bonding with his son. They wouldn’t let him take any pictures so he set him right back down. His mom visited with Chancellor two or three times during the trial when she was here, and that was actually unsupervised. I left him with her and her friends — and she had visited but I haven’t heard anything from her either.

Since he’s been out of prison, he’s not contacted me to see Chancellor. I’m not opposed to a chance for meeting him and seeing him … hopefully if this printed article reaches him, maybe he’ll reach out. I would like Chancellor to see who he is. Like I said, I don’t talk bad about him because my grandson wouldn’t be who he is without him.

If he called me today to see Chancellor, I would arrange for a supervised visit. I’m not going to let him take him off somewhere by himself, but I would be willing to have a supervised visit with him, and I want him to see how good his son is doing.

On what has been done in the past, as far as society and this world’s system, he has done his time. I respect that.

I don’t have anything bad to say about him, because we all fall short in life, and we have all been forgiven. I feel like if Christ can forgive me, who am I to withhold forgiveness to somebody else? Some of the major players in the Bible have been folks who murdered people. I’m just hoping this experience and him being incarcerated would have given him a change of heart, and that he will go on and do some real good in this world.