Chancellor Lee Adams turns 16 today, his “smile ministry” a testimony to his grandmother’s unfailing love and devotion

In 1999, his pregnant mother was gunned down but the boy who was supposed to die survived

By Dave Andrusko

Chancellor Lee Adams and his grandmother, Saundra Adams

Chancellor Lee Adams and his grandmother, Saundra Adams

I first wrote about then-baby Chancellor Lee Adams, his murdered mother Cherica Adams, his grandmother, Saundra Adams, and Chancellor’s father, Rae Carruth, almost 15 years ago.

In the nearly decade and a half since Carruth was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years and 11 months in prison for his role in the 1999 execution-style murder of his pregnant girlfriend, we have twice updated Chancellor’s and Saundra’s remarkable story.

Courtesy of Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer, we can bring you the latest in the uplifting saga of Chancellor and his incredibly devoted grandmother.

You might wonder, why did Fowler write now?

Not just because the incredibly brutal murder “remains one of the most notorious in Charlotte history,” but because Cherica’s and Carruth’s son turns 16 today.

According to Fowler, Chancellor is the spitting image of his father, who, to this day, denies any involvement in the murder, and unlike the three other men sentenced in the case, refuses to apologize. Chancellor, seven inches shorter than his father Fowler notes, suffers from cerebral palsy, due to loss of blood and oxygen the traumatic night of his birth. Adding to his very difficult situation, he was born ten weeks early.

“He’s able to feed himself some,” Adams told Fowler. “He’s able to dress himself with minimal assistance. And the biggest thing is he’s able to walk.”

She says she never treats the boy who was supposed to die, as “disabled,” but “‘abled’ differently.’”

In 1999, when Cherica told Carruth she was pregnant, he demanded she abort. She refused.

They went on a date to see a movie in November 1999 in separate cars. Afterwards, as Cherica followed Carruth’s car, he suddenly stopped. Fowler explains

Another car pulled up alongside her. [Tiggerman, Van Brett] Watkins shot five times into the BMW that Cherica was driving. Four of the bullets hit Cherica in the drive-by shooting.

None of the bullets hit Chancellor… As blood poured from her wounds, he began to suffocate.

Somehow, Cherica found her phone and found the strength to make a haunting, gasping call to 911. She described the shooting, enabled Chancellor’s rescue by describing where she was and implicated Carruth. The recording was later played in court. …

Chancellor was born later that night, 10 weeks early, by emergency Caesarean section. Carruth was arrested on Thanksgiving Day. He would later panic and try to jump bail after Cherica died. But the FBI found him 500 miles away, hiding in the trunk of another woman’s car at a Best Western motel in Tennessee. The trunk also contained $3,900 in cash and two bottles full of Carruth’s urine.

But the focus of the story is about what his grandmother calls Chancellor’s “smile ministry,” what Fowler describes as a full-out, thousand-watt grin.

“He wakes up smiling and he goes to bed smiling,” Adams says. “He’s had that same happy spirit his whole life. I tell him he’s in the smile ministry. I’ve had numerous people in stores come up and tell me: ‘You know, I was in a really funky mood, and this boy just keeps smiling. And I just cannot be mad when he’s smiling like that.’”

There are a million beautiful details in Fowler’s story, many of which illustrate how Adams has devoted her entire life to Chancellor’s well-being.

But clearly the most unexpected detail goes beyond that Saundra Adams has forgiven the man who arranged for the death of her only daughter. It is her determination that when Carruth gets out in 2018 he play a role in Chancellor’s life.

Fowler writes,

“The main reason I want Rae and Chancellor to one day have a relationship is because (Chancellor) is his son,” Adams says. “And that’s why I chose early on that I would forgive Rae. Because I don’t feel like I can offer unconditional love to Chancellor if I don’t forgive Rae. That’s his father. It’s a part of him. Chancellor wouldn’t be who he is without Rae. I want them to bond, or at least to meet again.

“Right now, Rae is still in denial about his part in Cherica’s murder. Not that Chancellor would change that. But if anybody were to ever touch Rae’s heart, to make him want to be truthful, I think it would be Chancellor.”

Perhaps that why Dr. Docia Hickey, a neonatologist, who cared for Chancellor at the hospital when he was a baby and has stayed close to the family ever since, believes Saundra can, in the midst of all this, be so happy:

“I just can’t say how great she is,” Hickey says. “That woman has devoted her life to her grandson, and she’s done a wonderful job. She is happy. So many people could be bitter. But she isn’t. She’s a remarkable woman. Saundra Adams is one of my heroes.”

Fowler ends his terrific piece by going back to where he started: Misty Meadows, a horse farm where Chancellor goes for therapeutic riding. (“Lee” is Chancellor’s middle name, the name that everyone besides his grandmother calls him by):

It is twilight now at the horse farm. An earlier drizzle has let up, and there are a few streaks of pink and purple in the sky. The 83 acres of Misty Meadows look like a landscape painting come to life. Harry Swimmer, who founded Misty Meadows with his wife, looks up fondly at the boy on the horse.

“Are you happy, Lee?” says Swimmer.

“Yeah!” Lee says, smiling even more broadly.

Lee sits up straighter in the saddle and looks forward. He clucks softly at the horse. Raider starts moving again.

And then Chancellor Lee Adams – the boy who was supposed to die 16 years ago – rides off into the sunset.