Mothers Who Wept: Sharing Stories of Alabama Mothers Who Coped With Loss

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

This Mother’s Day, Robinson is not alone in her pain. Over the past year, CBS 42 has shared the stories of many mothers like Robinson — mothers who have faced untold loss. Here are some of their stories.

Pearl Williams

Remembering the day the country pledged never to forget is a daily experience for Pearl Williams. His son, Army Maj. Dwayne Williams, was one of 125 men and women who perished inside the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

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

“I had a very bad nightmare and woke up screaming, shaking,” she said. “And a little voice said ‘something is going to happen to you.’ A spirit of unhappiness came over me and my spirit sank.

20 years after September 11, 2001, Pearl Williams said she had only recently found a way to be at peace with what had happened.

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

“My pastor and deacon told me not to focus too 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 so day in and day out by serving others.

“I tried to make a difference in the lives of others,” she says.

Roy Williams said his mother didn’t just try to do it. She succeeded.

The Williams family usually honors the Major Dwayne Williams memorial in Jacksonville Cemetery with a wreath-laying ceremony on 9/11. They have done so since 2002, when the memorial was unveiled, thanks to the tireless efforts of Pearl Williams.

“She brought together 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 was to celebrate. He had turned 30 on October 10. The day before his son died, Jackson and McFry had eaten pizza together, which he had asked for instead of cake.

Hours later, Jackson stood in his doorway in shock when state troopers told him that Brandon had been killed in a car accident. She was not told that an officer had beaten and killed her only son.

Jackson said she should have known about the police involvement.

Mothers Who Wept: Sharing Stories of Alabama Mothers Who Coped With Loss
Debbie Jackson, her son Brandon and his fiancée (Courtesy of Debbie Jackson)

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

A law enforcement vehicle struck and killed McFry. Authorities did not release the name of the officer driving the vehicle, but Talladega County Sheriff Jimmy Kilgore said a Talladega City police officer was driving the car. He said officers were trying to stop the vehicle over an illegally switched beacon.

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

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

Weeks later, McFry’s mother had still not heard from the police regarding the details of her son’s death.

“Still – for 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 of my questions. Why are you hiding this from me? I want to know what happened to my son.

Starcrease Pruitt

Mothers Who Wept: Sharing Stories of Alabama Mothers Who Coped With Loss
Jeremiah Pruitt (Courtesy of Starcrease Pruitt)

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

It was the last time Starcrease Pruitt saw his son alive.

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

Now Pruitt said she had two burdens to bear.

“Now I’m not only trying to bury a son, but I’m also trying to cure one of the pain.”

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

“I had to remind him that I still love him and it’s not his fault,” she said.

Erica Connell

On a Saturday afternoon in Birmingham, at a modest funeral home on First Avenue North, grief arose.

As the minister read the scriptures, the pain came out one agonizing cry at a time.

Erica Tenice Connell, surrounded by her family and friends, had gone to her son’s coffin.

Keleen RaShad Connell, 27, was shot dead by Birmingham police on February 23.

Just ten days later, at a funeral home less than a mile from where Keleen breathed her last, Erica Tenice Connell had come to visit her son.

When her mother – dressed in all white – reached the coffin, she wept.

“Baby, baby,” her mother shouted. “Call me mom one more time,” she repeated over and over. “Call me mom again.”

Mothers Who Wept: Sharing Stories of Alabama Mothers Who Coped With Loss
Erica Connell says her final goodbyes to her son Keleen, who was shot dead by Birmingham police. (Photo by Lee Hedgepeth)

The minister continued to read 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,’ read the minister.

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

Now Erica was dealing with the death of her youngest son.

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

Angela Cheatham

Five years later, however, the family and the police are still searching for answers.

Cheatham’s mother, Angela Cheatham, spoke to CBS 42 yesterday, on the fifth anniversary of her son’s death.

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

Mothers Who Wept: Sharing Stories of Alabama Mothers Who Coped With Loss
Angela Cheatham stands in front of the building where her son was killed. (Photo by Lee Hedgepeth)

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

“We were eight at the time,” she said. “Now he is scared. He is afraid of people. He doesn’t like anyone around him. He’s just really scared of someone hurting him.

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

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


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