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Mothers who’ve mourned: Sharing the stories of Alabama mothers who faced loss

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Sherry Robinson is a mighty mother. Tomorrow, she’s scheduled to speak with lawyers under oath about the circumstances of her daughter Kamiya’s death. Kamiya, a 7-year-old, died in 2021 from complications due to an appendix removal at Children’s of Alabama. Now, her mother is fighting back, suing the hospital and the doctors who treated Kamiya for wrongful death.

On this mother’s day, Robinson is not alone in her pain. In the last year, CBS 42 has shared the stories of many mothers like Robinson — moms who have faced unspeakable loss. Below are some of their stories.

Pearl Williams

Remembering the day the country vowed to never forget is an everyday experience for Pearl Williams. Her son, Army Major Dwayne Williams, was one of the 125 men and women who perished inside the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

Three weeks before that tragic day, Pearl Williams knew something ominous was on the horizon.

“I had a really bad nightmare, and I woke up screaming, shaking,” she said. “And a small voice said ‘something’s going to happen to you.’ A spirit of doom came over me, and my spirit became downcast.”

20 years since Sept. 11, 2001, Pearl Williams said she’s only recently found a way to be at peace with what happened.

Dwayne Williams died at the Pentagon on 9/11. His mother Pearl has worked tirelessly to keep Dwayne’s memory alive (Courtesy of the Williams family)

“My pastor and my deacon told me not to focus so much on Dwayne’s death,” she said, “but to focus on his memory.”

Pearl Williams, who recently won a battle with COVID-19 and pneumonia, has done that, day in and day out, by serving others.

“I have tried to make a difference in other people’s lives,” she said.

Roy Williams said his mother hasn’t just tried to do that. She’s succeeded.

The Williams family typically honors Major Dwayne Williams Memorial at Jacksonville City Cemetery with a wreath-laying ceremony on September 11th. It’s what they’ve done since 2002, when the memorial was unveiled, thanks to the tireless effort of Pearl Williams.

“She gathered together people politicians, people from our alma mater Jacksonville State and others to help her raise money to build a monument: a memorial to Dwayne in my hometown,” Roy said.

Debbie Jackson

The last time Debbie Jackson saw her son Brandon McFry alive, it was to celebrate. He had turned 30 on Oct. 10. The day before her son died, Jackson and McFry ate pizza together, which he’d requested instead of cake.

Hours later, Jackson stood at her door in shock as state troopers told her Brandon had been killed in a car accident. She was not told an officer had struck and killed her only son.

Jackson said she should have been told about the police’s involvement.

Debbie Jackson, her son Brandon, and his fiancee (Courtesy of Debbie Jackson)

“I feel like they’re trying to cover up something, or they would’ve told me what happened to Brandon,” she said.

A law enforcement vehicle struck and killed McFry. Officials have not released the name of the officer driving the vehicle, but Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said a Talladega city policewoman was driving the car. He said officers were attempting to stop the vehicle over an illegally switched tag.

Jackson also said that for three days, she was not informed of the location of McFry’s remains.

“I had no clue whatsoever where my son was,” she said.

Weeks later, McFry’s mother had still not heard from police concerning details about her son’s death.

“Still — right now — they won’t tell me what happened to my son, how he died in a car accident,” she said at the time. “They won’t answer any questions I have. Why are y’all hiding this from me? I want to know what happened to my son.”

Starcrease Pruitt

Jeremiah Pruitt (Courtesy of Starcrease Pruitt)

On a Tuesday afternoon, between her two work shifts, Starcrease Pruitt stopped by her home in Ensley to check on her sons. Pruitt, a house cleaner and nurse, said she brought her 13-year-old, Jeremiah, a bag of his favorite chips: Takis.

That was the last time Starcrease Pruitt saw her son alive.

Just hours after his afternoon snack, Jeremiah Pruitt was dead, having suffered a gunshot wound that his mother said was accidentally inflicted by one of his younger twin brothers.

Now, Pruitt said she has two burdens to bear.

“Now I’m trying to not only bury a son, but I’m trying to heal one from the pain.”

She said her 11-year-old son has been quiet since the accident and has had to be reminded of some important things.

“I had to remind him that I still love him and that this is not his fault,” she said.

Erica Connell

On a Saturday afternoon in Birmingham, in a modest funeral home on First Avenue North, the pain came out.

As the minister read from Scripture, the pain came out one agonizing scream at a time.

Erica Tenice Connell, surrounded by family and friends, had made it to her son’s casket.

Keleen RaShad Connell, 27, was shot and killed by Birmingham police on Feb. 23.

Just ten days later, in a funeral home less than a mile from where Keleen took his final breath, Erica Tenice Connell had come to give her son a homegoing.

As his mother — wearing all white — reached the casket, she wailed.

“Baby, baby,” his mother screamed. “Call me mama one more time,” she repeated again and again. “Call me mama one more time.”

Erica Connell says her final goodbyes to her son Keleen, who was shot and killed by Birmingham police. (Photo by Lee Hedgepeth)

The minister continued to read from a Psalm as Erica Connell spent her final moments with her son.

“I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust,” the minister read.

His words seemed to do little to soothe the mother’s pain. This wasn’t the first time Erica Connell had lost a son to gun violence. Keleen’s older brother, Kerry, was shot to death 11 years ago when he was only 18.

Now, Erica was dealing with her youngest’s son’s passing.

“One more time,” Erica Connell said, still standing over Keleen’s casket. “One more time.”

Angela Cheatham

Five years later, though, family and police are still looking for answers.

Cheatham’s mother, Angela Cheatham, spoke with CBS 42 yesterday, on the five-year anniversary of her son’s death.

“I’m still just pleading, begging for someone to please come, just say something,” she said. “I still need justice, and I’m begging for the community. Please come out and say something.”

Angela Cheatham stands in front of the building where her son was killed. (Photo by Lee Hedgepeth)

Angela Cheatham also discussed the murder’s impact on two of Rod’s children who witnessed the shooting of their father.

“One was eight at the time,” she said. “Now he’s afraid. He’s scared of people. He don’t like nobody to be around him. He’s just really afraid somebody is going to hurt him.”

Another of Rod’s children that witnessed the crime is now 18.

“He still has nightmares. It’s really been hard for them,” she said of the two children who found their father dead.

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