Cabarrus

Helping others move through their tragedy

It's not uncommon for Sally Coleman to face grieving mothers - mothers who feel lost and numb in the wake of the loss of a child.

She feels their pain. She knows that pain.

"Both our tears are just as salty, and our kids' blood is the same red," she said.

It's been 17 years since her son Narius Eugene Miller was shot and killed outside their Charlotte home. He was 13.

"Sometimes it's still like it was yesterday," said Coleman.

Now Coleman, 55, of Kannapolis is the president of the Cabarrus County chapter of Mothers of Murdered Offspring, a nonprofit victims' rights organization that provides support for families who have lost a child to murder.

It's the same group that hosted a candlelight vigil Sept. 20 in downtown Concord for Valerie Hamilton, the 23-year-old daughter of Concord police chief Merl Hamilton and a 2005 Concord High School graduate.

Hamilton's body was discovered by police Sept. 18 in Charlotte.

Coleman helped lead the vigil for Hamilton, who was remembered by friends and family as a young woman who loved glitter and working with children.

As the sun set, hundreds lifted glowing candles in her memory.

"We don't celebrate death," said Coleman. "We celebrate life."

Reaching out

Only about a month after Narius' death in 1993, another Charlotte family was mourning the loss of 20-year-old Shawna Hawk, a victim of serial killer Henry Louis Wallace. Wallace was later convicted of strangling or stabbing nine Charlotte women.

"You don't just go through a tragedy like that and go back to life as usual," said Hawk's godmother, Judy Williams. "You don't go back."

Williams and Hawk's mother, Dee Sumpter, organized a meeting in March 1993 to gather people interested in reaching out to grieving families. That group became Mothers of Murdered Offspring.

Coleman went to that first meeting, and she's been involved ever since.

The first funeral she attended after her son's death was that of an 18-month old girl who had been killed.

"This big," she recalled, holding out her hands shoulder-width apart as she described the tiny casket. "All I could think about was that her mother was aching."

Stepping in

She moved to Cabarrus County in 1995 and helped establish the organization's Cabarrus County chapter in 2003.

The group hosts vigils and graveside memorials and goes to court with families.

When people go through something as traumatic as the loss of a child, their friends and family often shy away, said Coleman. They just don't know what to say.

That's where Mothers of Murdered Offspring steps in.

"It's a process you go through that you never completely heal from," she said.

It doesn't matter who the victims are - black, white, daughters or nephews, she said.

If a family requested help, Mothers of Murdered Offspring would reach out, said Coleman - even if their loved one had not been murdered.

"There's no difference if you're a drug dealer or prostitute," she said. "You're a child of god."

Cabarrus County has had few murders since she created a local chapter, which has about 40 members, said Coleman, but the group reaches out to surrounding counties as well as to families in other states.

Healing

Since her son was killed, Coleman has been to more than 700 funerals.

"I enjoy this," she said, stopping to shake her head. "That sounds crazy."

It's hard, she admits, but she feels it's necessary.

For Coleman, it's all part of the healing process. She wants to help. She wants to know her son didn't die in vain.

Narius, the youngest of Coleman's four sons, was shot and killed Jan. 9, 1993, after someone in a passing car shot him outside his home.

Coleman believes the shot was intended for one her older sons, with whom a man had recently argued.

A man was charged but never convicted. The case remains on Charlotte's list of cold cases, said Coleman.

Narius would be 30 years old if he were still alive.

All Coleman has left of him is his middle school football jersey, memories of the spunky 13-year-old boy who had gone by the nickname "Tiny" since his birth and his legacy - a legacy of love, said Coleman.

"I'm not going to pretend he was an angel," she said, laughing as she recalled the time he pierced his own ear and hid the piercing from her. "He wasn't."

But he had a big heart. After his death, Coleman learned that he had received an A+ on a poem he wrote about her.

"He was a one-of-a-kind little fella," she said. "This child taught me what it was to be a mom, what it was to truly love."

No closure

There are life sentences or plea bargains. But those are only the courts' forms of closure, she said.

"Closure," she said, shrugging. "There's no such thing."

She knows it would be easy to be angry. She's known some parents who have turned to drugs or alcohol after the loss of a child.

"I have pictures of my kids' graduations and diplomas," she said. "I don't have his."

But Coleman has forgiven her son's killer. She knows that if she wants to see her son again in heaven, she has to forgive, she said.

"When I talk to another family, it helps me to heal, too," she said. "I thank God for giving me the mind-set to reach out to others.

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