This week, as highlighted in a moving story from the Charlotte Observer, Chancellor Lee Adams celebrated his sixteenth birthday.
In most circumstances, such an achievement wouldn't be headline news.
But for Chancellor, the fact that he not only survived but is thriving despite living with the challenges of cerebral palsy is remarkable.
After all, Chancellor's father — Rae Carruth, a onetime star for the University of Colorado Buffaloes who went on to play professional football for the Carolina Panthers — was convicted of conspiring to murder the boy's mother, Cherica Adams, in 1999, when she was eight-months pregnant. Carruth reportedly wanted Cherica and his unborn son to die so he wouldn't have to pay child support.
Carruth remains in prison, but not for much longer. He's scheduled for release in 2018, and last month, WSOC-TV reported that he had been transferred to a lighter-security prison. While he's currently working at the facility as a barber for pay of $1 per day, he could potentially qualify for a work-release program.
Carruth had an impressive career at CU Boulder between 1992 and 1996, where he played wide receiver (he caught more than fifty passes in each of his last two years) and served as an occasional kick returner.
After leading the Big 12 Conference in touchdown catches and receiving yards in 1996, he was drafted by the Panthers in the first round of the 1997 NFL draft. But his professional career wasn't nearly as stellar.
He caught 44 passes in his first year, but his total fell to only four balls the next season due to a broken foot. And he made just fourteen grabs during the first six games of the 1999 season.
At that point, trouble with the law ended his athletic career once and for all.
Around that time, Carruth had been dating Cherica — and on November 16, 1999, the pair went to a movie called The Bone Collector.
The film is about a serial killer, the Observer notes.
Afterward, Cherica followed Carruth in a separate vehicle — and when he stopped, she did likewise.
Then, a vehicle pulled up alongside her car and opened fire. Her subsequent 911 call can be heard in a video below — but here's a graphic featuring some of the exchange.
Cherica soon perished from her wounds, but Chancellor, who wasn't hit by any of the four bullets that struck his mother, was saved.
Physicians delivered him ten weeks early.
This timing, not to mention the horrific wounds to Cherica, likely led to Chancellor developing cerebral palsy.
The Observer points out that he was actually blue when he was born due to a lack of oxygen.
Afterward, Chancellor badly needed a champion.
Fortunately, he had one: his maternal grandmother, Saundra Adams.
She took the boy home from the hospital on December 31, 1999, mere weeks after his mother died.
By then, Carruth had already been arrested for instigating the shooting; he was fitted for cuffs that Thanksgiving. Van Brett Watkins, the man who pulled the trigger, and two other conspirators were eventually convicted alongside Carruth, who was sentenced to just shy of nineteen years in prison circa 2001.
As for Chancellor, his condition was so serious that doctors thought he'd neither speak nor walk without assistance.
They were wrong. As the Observer's Scott Fowler writes, "the boy who wasn’t supposed to talk can communicate a little with people who don’t know him and a lot with people who do. The boy who wasn’t supposed to walk mostly uses a walker to get around now instead of a wheelchair, and he navigates steps without help."
In addition, he's able to ride horses — something he does on a weekly basis.
On those day, his easy smile is even wider than usual.
Happy sixteenth, Chancellor.
Look below to see a 2010 documentary about the death of Cherica Adams and the arrest of Rae Carruth, followed by the WSOC-TV story about him being transferred to a lighter-security prison. To read the complete Observer article, click here.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.