Sometimes in the news business it's easy to forget that life goes on after a tragic headline. Police clear away an accident or take down the crime scene tape, and most of us forget and move on. We rarely hear what happens next to the people involved. And it's too bad, because the aftermath of a tragedy is often where the most important lessons lie. That's what WFAE's Julie Rose learned in a follow-up to one of those incidents.
You know how some things will just sort of blend into the landscape once you've seen them enough times? Well, a white bike on the corner of Remount Road and South Tryon is not like that. I pass that corner every single day on my way home from work. There's a sign that says "In Memory of Shcrissony." Sometimes there are new flowers jammed in the spokes, or a new teddy bear hanging from the handle bars.
"I just recently put some pink flowers up there," says Cheryl Potts. She found them while out shopping for something to wear to church on Mother's Day. "I said, 'I'm getting me something so I'm gonna take these up and give my baby something," says Cheryl.
She lives a few blocks from that white bike. On May 23, 2008, her only child - Shcrissony - was riding her bike to the store for some candy. "One of those little suckers with the toys in it," remembers Cheryl. Shcrissony had just turned 13 and was starting to look grown-up in her sparkly tracksuits and training bra.
But that day she was just a little girl with a sweet tooth. It was 3:30 p.m. on a Friday. The police report says Shcrissony darted into the intersection while the light was still green. The driver of a CMS school bus couldn't stop in time.
"One of my neighbor's granddaughters came beating on my door," remembers Cheryl. "She said, 'What did your daughter have on? Was she on her bike? I left my door unlocked and I started running."
A paramedic told Cheryl her daughter didn't suffer. In the days after the accident, Cheryl had trouble sleeping, trouble leaving the house. She leaned on her large extended family and on Shcrissony's dad, even though they've been separated for years.
He wasn't exactly doing well, either. "It was a shock," says Johnny Hall. "She's supposed to be throwing dirt on me. I'm (not) supposed to be throwing dirt on her at an early age." Shcrissony was Johnny's only daughter.
They'd play basketball on the court behind her mom's apartment nearly every day after school. "She used to get right over here and do a little jumper," remembers Johnny. "Then she'd look over me and smile. She'd say, 'Dad, I hit a jumper, now you got to hit one.' "
The boys on the court welcomed Shcrissony. She told them she wanted to go to college and play basketball. "Everybody wanted her to go to college because she was the talentedest girl ever," says Tomas Neeley. There's a sweet bashfulness about the way Tomas remembers Shcrissony. They were basketball buddies and lived in the same housing authority neighborhood on South Tryon. He's 17 now, with a diamond in his left ear.
The day Shcrissony died was the same day Tomas finally worked up the courage to ask her out. "She was like one of the most kindest, cutest, sweetest girls ever," says Tomas. "You just couldn't get mad at her."
Tomas still has a photo of Shcrissony hanging on his wall. Everybody seems to have the same one of her in a blue jersey, basketball resting on her hip. Hair in a ponytail. Confident smile. The basketball team at Sedgefield Middle School retired her number and framed the jersey for her mom. When Cheryl goes to fetch the frame, she apologizes for the mess in Shcrissony's room. But the fact that she's started using it for storage is a sign that she's healing. While her daughter was alive, Cheryl battled depression and health problems. Sometimes she stayed in bed for days. Shcrissony would beg her to come to the new church she'd found. Not long before the accident, Cheryl finally relented. "It seemed like she was preparing me - for this day," says Cheryl, choking up. "We went and joined the church. We got baptized. It just seems like she was getting prepared to leave, you know?"
Shcrissony loved church. She sang in the choir and went to Bible study every week. She's kind of a legend at Seigle Avenue Presbyterian. "Shcrissony would gather these kids to come to church and they just came in droves and droves," marvels Martine Wurst. She runs the Seigle Avenue youth ministry. After Shcrissony's death, the kids kept coming. Their photos cover the walls of the Bible study room they named after her.
Martine says they talk to the kids about the kind of legacy they want to leave. "You know that dash between your birth and when you're gone in the world? What's your dash? What's your legacy?" says Martine. "Her dash was very, very short, but powerful." Sometimes you'll hear the church kids out on the basketball court saying things like "make one for Crit!" They say she's their guardian angel.
Since her death, Shcrissony parents have gotten even more involved in the church. Johnny says he likes seeing the other kids grow up and wondering what his girl would be like. Cheryl is one of the leaders for the youth group. She's also taking classes to become a foster mother. It's strange to say, but Shcrissony's death has made her a better person. Cheryl thinks her daughter would like who she's become. "She loved me then, but she would love me even more now," says Cheryl, confidently.
Peace has been harder for Makisisa Clay to find. She was the CMS bus driver in the accident. Makisisa is 35. She's not the same person anymore. The accident is difficult for her to talk about, but she wrote some of her thoughts down. Not a day goes by that she doesn't think about Shcrissony. "My heart aches for her family," writes Makisisa. "I have constantly, over the past two years, replayed the accident in my head. Devastation, anguish and pain do not even begin to express how I have felt as a result of witnessing Shcrissony die right in front of me."
After the accident, Makisisa stayed on at CMS, but her physical and emotional pain made it hard to do her job. She says she was treated like the accident was her fault, even though the police investigation cleared her. Last November, she says she was fired for what CMS calls "job abandonment." And her life is falling apart in other ways: she's received two eviction notices since then.
Shcrissony's mother says she'd like to meet Makisisa. "I really do want to meet her," says Cheryl Potts. "I want her to know that I don't blame her. I don't blame her. It wasn't her fault. And it wasn't Crissy's fault. It's just an accident that happened at that time."
Sunday, May 23 will mark the two-year anniversary of Shcrissony Potts' death. Her family and friends will hold a vigil in her honor at 3 p.m. on the neighborhood basketball court where she liked to play.