Too often I find myself doing something I think most of us do, unfortunately – observing hashtagged names on social media, trending in remembrance of people whose lives were cut short.
On back-to-back days last week, we were presented with the 20th anniversary of rapper/actor Tupac Shakur’s murder from a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas, and the marking of three years since Jonathan Ferrell was killed by a police officer in Charlotte.
Two very different stories, in two very different places, two decades apart; yet the result is the same.
While the debate rages on over whose lives matter, behind each life that is taken is a story that eventually fades from the headlines; a story whose final chapters didn’t get a chance to be written.
Here are a few we should take the time to remember in Charlotte.
And while we can’t ask “Where are they now,” I can offer an uplifting prediction of where their lives could be today had they lived.
Age: 24 | Year: 1999
Adams was a Charlotte real estate agent, pregnant with a child from her boyfriend, Rae Carruth, a third-year player for the Carolina Panthers. The couple was leaving a south Charlotte movie theater shortly after midnight, driving separately, when a car pulled alongside Adams’ car and a gunman fired several bullets. She was struck four times. After Adams was rushed to the hospital, her son Chancellor was delivered 10 weeks premature, while she fought on life support but died nearly a month later. It is believed that Carruth hired the gunman, and Carruth was subsequently convicted of conspiracy to commit murder, sentenced to 18 to 24 years in prison, and could be released in the fall of 2018.
If she were alive today: Adams would be a partner in a thriving Charlotte real estate firm. And Chancellor would be playing high school football (rather than spending his life suffering from cerebral palsy), wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Sean Clark and Jeff Shelton
Ages: 34 and 35 | Year: 2007
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officers Clark and Shelton were responding to a routine disturbance call for service at the Timber Ridge Apartments in east Charlotte. Demeatrius Montgomery encountered the officers in the parking lot of the apartment complex and shot both of them. Clark and Shelton died hours later at Carolinas Medical Center. Montgomery was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and is serving life in prison.
If they were alive today: Clark would have 10 years of service under his belt now with CMPD, and he and his wife, Sherry, would be happily raising their two sons, including the one Clark never got a chance to meet (Sherry was pregnant at the time of her husband’s death). Shelton would be a deputy chief with his sights on becoming chief in a few years, and he would be a leader in the community with his wife, Jennifer.
The Charlotte’s Finest Legacy Foundation was created to honor the officers’ memories. The annual Thin Blue Line Run, a fundraising 5K, takes place Nov. 5.
Age: 26 | Year: 2009
Henry was a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals who displayed great talent on the field but also a penchant for trouble off the field. Despite arrests and league suspensions over the years, his teammates, coaches, friends, and family members believed he’d begun the path of turning his life around. A week before Christmas, Henry got into a domestic dispute with his fiancée in Charlotte, where she lived with their three children. His fiancée drove away in a pickup truck, he jumped onto the back of it, and shortly after fell off of the truck. He died the following day from head injuries.
If he were alive today: Henry would be nearing the end of a successful NFL playing career, and he would’ve been a leader of players speaking out against the domestic violence issues that plagued the league in subsequent years. Though, in a way, Henry is alive today. When he laid in the hospital brain dead, his mother decided to donate his organs, which eventually went to four people – recipients of his pancreas, two kidneys, liver, and lungs.
Age: 23 | Year: 2010
Hamilton was a preschool teacher and swim instructor, out one night celebrating a friend’s birthday at a Plaza Midwood bar. She left the bar with Michael Harvey, and the two used heroin at his home. Hamilton overdosed, and rather than Harvey taking her to get medical attention, he took her to a motel, where she soon died. He then hid her body in a self-storage unit. After a manhunt for a few days, Harvey was captured and eventually pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter.
If she were alive today: Hamilton would’ve overcome her struggles with drugs, to help shed light on a burgeoning heroin addiction problem in Charlotte that’s only become more apparent in recent years. She’d run a nonprofit organization that uses swimming to help teens and young adults battle drug addiction.
Age: 18 | Year: 2012
Washington, a recent high school graduate, was at a July house party in east Charlotte filled with young people. A fight broke out and three teenagers were struck by gunfire, and while two teens suffered non-life-threatening injuries (one shot in the arm, the other in the leg), Washington died almost instantly. No one has ever been charged with his murder, and it remains an open homicide investigation.
If he were alive today: Because he played football in high school and wanted to attend UNC Charlotte, Washington would’ve been a walk-on player on the 49ers football team. And after being redshirted his freshman year, he’d now be a fifth-year senior, starter, and co-captain.
When a person passes away, we often hear the adage, “gone but not forgotten.” Well, let’s not only not forget them, but let’s also remember how they died and what lessons can be learned.
Whether it’s by an act of domestic violence, gang violence, or drug use, many of these deaths could’ve been prevented. It’s up to us, who are still here, to decide how.