Sun December 15, 2013
A Year Later, Louisville Woman's Murder Remains Unsolved, Unexplained
It took one, very long sleepless night to complete that crystal-encrusted costume.
“Jesus,” Terrance Williams says. “We stayed up all night putting diamonds on that black shirt.”
Williams’ best friend, Cheryl Williamson, was competing in the 2011 Miss Omega Pageant at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, and she demanded perfection before she’d take the stage.
“I always go to that video and watch it,” he says. “We all do, actually. It’s pretty funny.”
Watching the video of Cheryl’s performance allows Williams to find the strength to “have hope” in her absence. She always encouraged her friends to have hope above all else.
Cheryl was shot and killed outside a party in Louisville on Nov. 25, 2012. She was 24. She would have graduated from WKU this past May—the first in her family to earn a college degree.
Her murder, like dozens of others in Louisville, remains unsolved. But authorities remain hopeful.
When he misses Cheryl, Williams draws on nights spent with her, like the one by her side perfecting that diamond-studded shirt.
He recalls her performance at the pageant's talent competition—a love poem to her plus-sized figure.
“Six and eight? Those are shoe sizes,” Cheryl said, kicking her foot. A roar from the audience and cheers drowned out the next line.
“Forty-four. Forty-two. Forty-six,” she called out, taking ownership of her measurements.
By the end of the three-minute performance, the crowd—captivated by Cheryl’s larger-than-life presence—called out the numbers with her.
When judges awarded Cheryl second place instead of the pageant title, her friends were madder than she was.
“When she got runner-up, I was so mad, I just left,” Williams says. “All her family was there, and everybody was taking pictures, and she was like, ‘Terrance! Don’t be mad. I’m proud of myself for just doing it, period.’”
A Year Without Answers
It’s been more than a year since friends and family of Cheryl buried their loved one.
The person who shot Cheryl outside of The Gillespie, an event venue located near Fifth and Market streets in downtown Louisville, remains at large.
Louisville Metro Police Department investigated 62 homicides in 2012 — up from 48 in 2011, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
Cheryl’s case and 29 others from 2012 remain unsolved, LMPD data shows.
Andre “A.J.” Farrell, one of Cheryl’s closest friends, says he thinks no one will be arrested.
“That pisses me off,” he says. “I wasn’t there. I’ve heard many stories, but I obviously don’t know what to believe or what to do.”
But Lt. Todd Kessinger, commander of LMPD Homicide, says Cheryl’s case can still be solved.
“With something like this—especially a case like this—the solvability factor is pretty high just because it was an innocent victim, it was a female, and she was shot in front of a large group of people,” Kessinger says. “There were a lot of people present when she was shot, but nobody has come forward, yet, and said ‘This is the person that did it,’ or anything like that.”
Hundreds of partygoers attended the event at The Gillespie, and several dozen stood outside at the time shots were fired at about 3:30 a.m., Kessinger says.
LMPD is currently investigating about a dozen tips but has no suspects.
Unlike many kinds of homicides, cases such as this one often become more workable as time passes, he says.
“With this, it seems like a lot of the time, the further you get away from the actual incident, the more the witnesses feel comfortable talking about it,” he says. “That’s why I say this case here—I thought it would have been solved quicker than this. But as time goes on, and we get more removed from the situation, I think more witnesses will be more likely to come forward.”
A two-year window exists before an unsolved case gets tagged as a “cold case,” Kessinger says.
As information spreads throughout the neighborhood, potential sources of information can open up and provide detectives with new leads, he says.
“Originally when something happens, there are five or six people who see it happen, then the bad guy would know these five people were there,” Kessinger says. “But as time goes on, more and more people talk about it, and more and more people get involved. That information can come to us from a variety of people.”
Kessinger says witnesses may consider the "burden" of having witnessed the crime but not cooperating with police.
Cheryl’s friends attribute the lack of closure to the attitudes of people from their neighborhood.
Williams says it’s frustrating to know so many people saw what happened and have yet to say anything.
“It’s this whole big thing of, ‘don’t snitch,’” he says. “I guess when the situation is with you, it’s totally different. If it was someone who they talk to every day, who lifted them up, who was with them, I think it would be different. And now everyone is just so silent.”
Williams was at The Gillespie with Cheryl the night she died, but he says he was not with her when she was shot. But rumors have circulated about who pulled the trigger and why, the most common being that the shooter was a large, black man who was angry with Cheryl for either stepping on his shoe or spilling a drink on him, Terrance says.
“All these people but no one knows him? I don’t know,” he says in disbelief.
Reluctant witnesses play a role in all murder investigations, Kessinger says.
“A lot of that is they don’t want to get involved,” he says. “They don’t want to get involved in the court process. Eventually, that person has to look in the mirror and decide whether or not they want to do the right thing and whether or not they want to deal with the consequences.”
Pastor Jerry Stephenson of Midwest Church of Christ in the West End says black residents don't necessarily have a bad relationship with the police.
“Unfortunately, because of the crime element and the fear, many people are afraid to come forward to help solve cases,” Stephenson says. “That’s why many of these murders are not solved. People are fearful.”
The problem reaches issues beyond crime. Stephenson says lack of education contributes to the high levels of violence, including black-on-black crime, which he calls “totally out of control.”
“I assure you that probably—90 percent of the chance—the person who shot and killed (Cheryl) is a high school dropout,” he says.
“All of this is happening, and our young blacks, they don’t see. Our jailhouses are full of young black males who have dropped out of school.”
Kessinger says witnesses previously interviewed by police could play a role in solving the case.
“A lot of time your cases are only as strong as your ability to interview,” he says. “With a case like this, we may go back, and we’ll re-interview everyone again in the future and see what we come up with a second time.”
Stephenson says the prevalence of murder and violent crime in the community has a numbing effect on people—that they can become "immune" to the problem.
Closed case or not, Farrell says he won’t feel any different.
Cheryl’s not coming back.
“She’s still gone, justice or not. Honestly, I feel it’d still be the same way," he says, his eyes locked on the ground. “I guess I place it in God’s hands that she’s in a better place, but I wish she was here,” he says. “I can’t change that. But I leave that part alone.”
West End to Western
Cheryl grew up in the now-demolished Sheppard Square housing project in Louisville’s predominantly black Smoketown neighborhood. At the time of her death, her family lived in the West End. Both serve as examples of the tough life in Louisville.
Known for her bold fashion sense at WKU, Cheryl was a rough-and-tumble tomboy who played football on a team at the Presbyterian Community Center growing up.
Thomas Harris, a childhood friend who played on an opposing team, first met Cheryl around the age of 8 or 9.
“She was tough because she has like four brothers, so she had to be tough,” he says. “And just growing up where we come from, you have to be tough. There’s no room for, lack of a better term, ‘softness.’ Especially where she grew up.”
Where Cheryl grew up and where she lived when she died doesn’t really matter in the big picture. Black leaders say the trail of trouble always leads back to education.
“(The West End) is a goldmine for the future of curriculum in Metro Louisville,” says Stephenson. “It has a great potential. However, the people find themselves in a precarious situation because of the crime and the drugs, in particularly, that is driving so many things.
These neighborhoods also come with stigma cast onto them from outside the area, and many people “wake up” each day with that stigma, Stephenson says. For example, he argues, Louisville's student assignment system sends the message that they aren’t worth fighting for and that authorities are being neglectful of the neighborhood.
But Cheryl overcame the hurdles to better herself and to serve as an example for others.
Cheryl’s mother, Donetta Williamson, says Cheryl, the fourth-born of six children, became a role model to everyone in the family—even to her mom, who calls her "the boss."
Harris says Cheryl stayed strong for her family’s sake.
“She was the rock for her family,” he says. “They didn’t have their father around. Her mother—she was a good mother as good as she could—she helped out as good as she could. But at the end of the day, Cheryl was the rock.
“She knew she needed to be the one who set that positive example and bring that appreciation to their family name, basically.”
But for all of Cheryl’s toughness, her feminine side—and maturity—began to blossom while she attended Atherton High School.
Atherton, in the Highlands, is 67.2 percent white and 20.6 percent of about 1,266 students are black, according to Jefferson County Public Schools data for the 2012-2013 school year. Its graduation rate of 71.1 percent falls above average when compared with a JCPS’s rate of 67.8 percent.
But Atherton doesn’t fare as well for some students when comparing rates across racial lines, according to the Kentucky Department of Education. Atherton’s white students graduated at an 80.1 percent rate, more than the district average of 73.4 percent in 2013. However, black students graduated at 62.8 percent in 2013, falling below the JCPS average of 65.3 percent.
Stephenson is the state director for the Black Alliance for Educational Options, which advocates parental choice and has championed the push for charter schools in Kentucky. He says he believes public schools are “the number one problem in the West End of Louisville” and that JCPS has “failed miserably” at teaching children to read, write and do basic math.
Other than “raising the moral standard” in the West End, Stephenson says he believes education holds the key to unlocking economic opportunities for young people.
Despite the challenges Cheryl faced in a city with a school system that leaves many black youth at the starting gate, Cheryl took to the race with vigor.
“Now when she got in high school, she changed,” Donetta says, drawing out “changed” with emphasis. “She didn’t want to play football no more. She became a lady, you know, carrying her purse, wearing her dresses and skirts.”
Donetta says her daughter—who earned poor grades and misbehaved growing up—started to get involved in school activities and focus on her future. Cheryl took to school and cared about her grades for the first time. She joined the step team. She volunteered with the Metro United Way. She developed relationships with her mentors, and she went on college tours.
WKU made her tour list.
She applied to WKU, and when the acceptance letter came, Cheryl became a Hilltopper.
Donetta says her daughter was “really enthusiastic” about attending WKU after graduating from Atherton in 2006.
“I was sad, but I knew that was the right move,” she says. “I was proud of her. I was sad—when you see your kids pack up all their stuff. The day she pulled off in the car, I just cried.”
Cheryl, Harris and several of their friends all began attending WKU in fall 2006.
“When she first got here, we all stuck together,” Harris says. “Everything we did was together. People would call us the ‘Louisville Crew.’ We just stuck together. We would go to parties, hang out together, study together.”
Cheryl met her college best friend, Williams, a year later.
“I was a freshman at South Campus, and I was just walking around,” Williams said. “I couldn’t find my class, and she was like, ‘Hey, do you need help?’ And I’m like, I don’t know her, but I did need help, so I was like, ‘Yeah.’ So she showed me where my class was and told me about the teacher because she’d already had her the semester before. She just gave me a few pointers, and we just started talking.
“It was weird. I seen her on the shuttle after my class and she was like, ‘Hey, I remember you! How’d your class go?’ She was just concerned.”
The pair quickly grew close.
But events in fall 2008 brought Cheryl and Williams even closer.
WKU gained national media attention on Oct. 22 that year following a fight that began at 11:25 a.m. South Campus, located more than a mile away, and spilled over to main campus. WKU email and text-message alerts reported shots fired—which, it turns out, never happened—and campus went on lockdown.
Law enforcement and SWAT teams descended on campus, and within an hour local, state and national media joined them. A year after the Virginia Tech massacre, WKU became the center of national attention “for a few turbulent hours,” President Gary Ransdell wrote in an email to faculty and staff the following day.
The “all clear” came at 3:07 p.m.
The incident—now often called the “non-incident”—gave WKU a black eye.
And it gave a new dimension to Cheryl and Williams’ friendship.
Although the names of the people punished for the fight have never been released by WKU, Williams admits his involvement. Cheryl was not involved, but her older brother Antonio—who was not a WKU student—was, Donetta says. WKU suspended Williams and Cheryl for one year. The university permanently banned Antonio from campus, Donetta says, while adding he doesn’t have a reason to go back now.
A letter from Deborah Wilkins, general counsel for WKU, responding to a Dec. 4, 2013, Freedom of Information request for names of participants and sanctions stated that Student Affairs advised that “disciplinary action was initiated and sanctions levied against eight (8) students as a result of this incident.” The university declined to release the names of these students and their disciplinary records “as such records are exempt under the provisions of FERPA.”
“Cheryl basically had to leave (WKU) because of her company,” Williams says. “That really tore her up because she was trying to change.”
During the year off, Williams and Cheryl spent a lot of time talking about their futures. Cheryl periodically checked with university officials to make sure she could return the following academic year.
Cheryl moved back home to Louisville where she shared a room with her younger sister and worked at UPS, sorting through packages and loading trucks, which she hated.
Williams recalled some of Cheryl’s laments at the time: “‘I can’t live like this. Look at my nails. It’s hot. My feet are hurting…I was tortured the whole time.’”
“When Cheryl couldn’t be in school, she was so depressed,” Williams says. “She’d be on the phone crying because she was so scared of being like everyone around us. And that’s why I think she was so set for greatness.”
Cheryl, the Motivator
The day Cheryl and Williams got their acceptance letters to return to WKU, they literally jumped for joy.
“‘Mama, I get to go back. I. Am. Going. Back. And I don’t care who’s fighting or what, I’m not in it,’” Donetta remembers Cheryl telling her. “Her education—she didn’t play about that.”
When they returned to WKU in fall 2009, Cheryl brought a heightened focus to school like never before, Williams says. She began meeting with her advisers and keeping lists of things to accomplish.
And Cheryl met the woman who would become her mentor at WKU, Vee Smith.
Smith, who worked in the Office of Diversity Programs at the time, is now the director of the Institute of Black Culture at the University of Florida. At WKU, Smith launched Project CLASS—Creating Leaders and Shaping Sisters— to better prepare black women to succeed in college. Cheryl joined the first CLASS cohort after another student told Smith about Cheryl.
“I knew of her history, and some problems that she had, and that she was really trying to get herself back on track,” Smith says.
However, Cheryl quit the program a few weeks before it ended because “there were some things that were going, and she just wasn’t ready,” Smith says.
“We stayed in contact over the next few years, and I just watched this woman flourish on her own, and just really take in everything that was happening. She really listened to mentors and people who have been professionals. She was really getting geared into what she wanted to do and finding herself.”
Cheryl’s friends remember her as the motivator and “mother” of their group. She would routinely send text messages with Bible verses, inspirational quotes and supportive messages to her friends.
“You know some days you’re just like, ‘Ugh’?” Williams says. “And then you just get that random text about how proud someone is of you. That’s really amazing, really. It’d just have you smiling all day.”
Cheryl would also periodically schedule “meetings” with her friends to talk about their goals and progress made toward them.
“She wanted to talk about our dreams,” Williams says. “We would have to do an update. Say we would go in November, and then we might not go until December again. But how did you change? How did you move toward that goal you really wanted to do, or what are you doing that you shouldn’t be doing?”
Williams says “the guys” had two mealtime meetings since September to update one another on their goals, the first such meetings since Cheryl died.
Farrell says Cheryl’s opinion, was “as per usual, was always right.”
“We had plenty of arguments,” he says. “I’m the type of guy who’s going to argue my case, right or wrong, but she’d be right most of the time, honestly. I remember one time, school was getting tough on me and I was like, ‘Man . . . forget school. I’m tired of school. You don’t need college to do what you want.’ She gave me a serious face like, ‘Dre! Yes you do!’”
Farrell always appreciated Cheryl’s advice and let her know when she was right—even if it wasn’t until a week later, he says.
But Cheryl also focused on her own goals—more so than her friends realized.
After Cheryl died, Williams helped clean out her apartment. He found letters written to herself.
“It was like, ‘Hey you. I believe in you,’” Williams says. “Or ‘Little lost girl, don’t ever give up, despite all odds against you.’ She was always big on that—despite all odds against me—because our background, our family problems, our financial problems.”
After graduating from college, Cheryl planned to combine two of her passions: fashion and helping others.
“She said after she had graduated from down there, she said, ‘Mama, I’m going to move to New York,” Donetta says. “‘I’m going to open up my clothing line. Then I’m going to make some money off of that, and then I’m going to go back to grad school.’ That was that.”
Donetta says Cheryl never mentioned what degree she would pursue in graduate school, but Smith has an idea about that.
“She wanted to rule the world,” Smith says, pausing to laugh. “I don’t think that she ever vocalized this to me, but I knew that Cheryl wanted to be a motivational speaker because she was really growing into that, and she would have been great at it. She would have been great at it, because she did it even in her own circles.”
A Fateful Visit Home
Cheryl spent her last Thanksgiving break in Bowling Green working as a sales associate at a Target store and handling the crush of holiday shoppers.
“‘Mama, I won’t be in Thanksgiving,’” Donetta remembers Cheryl calling to tell her. “‘Send me a plate!’”
And so Donetta sent leftovers back to WKU with one of Cheryl’s cousins. On Nov. 24, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Donetta called Cheryl to see if she was coming home for the rest of the long weekend.
But Cheryl was already on her way to Louisville.
She found a ride after her work shift ended. She sent Williams to run errands for her, finding her an outfit and buying glitter and fake eyelashes for a party at The Gillespie that night. She was determined to make it to Louisville in time to go out with her friends.
It was between 11 p.m. and midnight when Cheryl finally made it to her mother’s house in Louisville.
“Cheryl was always slow getting ready,” Donetta says. “Like I said, a hair cannot be out of place (or) she won’t go.”
By 1 a.m., Williams and some friends waited in a car outside Cheryl’s house when she finally decided to leave—reluctantly.
“She got mad,” Donetta says. “She said, ‘I don’t even want to go, for real. I should have stayed in Bowling Green. My outfit is not right.’
“I said, ‘Cheryl you look OK.’
“She said, ‘Well mama, I’ll see you later.’”
Cheryl headed out of the house—still complaining about her outfit.
“She was like, ‘Ughhh, I don’t look right!’” Williams says. “She was so mad.”
Williams remembers Cheryl descending the steps from her house and walking down the sidewalk toward the car. He clearly remembers her outfit.
“You know, it’s dark outside,” he says. “Her shirt was black, but I swear, when she came out, I just seen the jewels. Like her earrings and her…she had on this headband we had made. It’s a thick headband with a big cheetah bow, and it has diamonds and gold all around it. It was just sparkling.
“She looked really beautiful.”
They arrived at The Gillespie sometime around 1:20 a.m. As the car pulled up, Cheryl continued styling — applying clear gloss and silver glitter to her lips.
“So that took another 20 minutes,” Williams says, rolling his eyes.
Cheryl and Williams spent about two hours at the party—one that caused a buzz throughout town, which drew a mix of people from Louisville, college and the neighborhood.
When it was time to leave, Williams went outside to the left to check on his sisters, who also went to the party.
Cheryl went right.
“I heard the loudest gunshot I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard a lot of gunshots,” Williams says. “I don’t know what kind of gun it was, but it was like, Pow! And then everyone just started running, and I don’t know if I thought I was Superman or something, but I started running towards the street. I still ask myself, ‘Why would I run towards it?’
“And I just ran, and as I’m running, I seen the headband that we made. It was on the sidewalk. By this time, everyone just scattered like ants, and no one was right there. I found the headband, and I was like, ‘What? That’s her favorite headband.’ I’m thinking she must have dropped it.”
A stranger yelled to Williams: ‘Aye—that girl you be with, she got shot!’
Someone tried to force Williams to get in their car, but he refused. He wanted to find Cheryl. Finally, he agreed to go to University Hospital, where another partygoer took Cheryl.
When he arrived at the hospital, doctors told Williams that Cheryl was responsive. She even got out of the car and walked herself into the hospital.
Williams talked to the friend who drove Cheryl to the emergency room and was told she remained calm.
“When she got out of the car, she said thank you for him taking her,” Williams says. “It’s hilarious. Who thinks?”
His voice trails off.
Donetta got word just as she headed to bed.
“It’s getting close to time for the club to let out, and I was just going to lay down in the bed because I know Cheryl was going to be beating on this door,” Donetta says. “Instead of Cheryl knocking on the door, it was one of her friends knocking on that door. And he told me that Cheryl had been shot. And, uh, it made me so nervous. Finally, I got myself together.”
The hospital waiting room quickly filled up with partygoers, friends and family. Williams remembers a lot of people praying together. When Donetta arrived at the hospital, Cheryl was in critical condition in surgery.
“They said they had lost her once, brought her back,” she says. “We sat there and we waited, we waited, we waited, we waited, we waited.”
A doctor came out and asked for family to step into a small room. Donetta grabbed Williams’ hand.
The doctor tried to explain the extent Cheryl’s injuries.
“Finally, the doctor came out and said they did all they could do,” Donetta said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, did she make it or what?’” she says, waving her left arm up and down as she recalls this moment.
“He said, ‘No, I’m sorry. She didn’t make it.’ For a split second, I was numb. I couldn’t believe it.
“I still can’t believe it.”
Doctors pronounced Cheryl dead at 5:21 a.m.
In their more than five years as friends, Farrell and Cheryl frequently talked about graduation. Both were set to complete their undergraduate degrees in May 2013.
“She was so ready to graduate, and I was excited, too,” he says. “Then November came around and it really didn’t matter to me as much as it used to.”
When Farrell graduated with his bachelor’s degree, he found a way to also honor Cheryl. As he walked the line, he carried a portrait of Cheryl in hand so she could walk, too.
His graduation cap—trimmed in leopard print, one of Cheryl’s favorites—featured a small photo of Cheryl with a graduation cap sticker placed on her head. Red letters stated: “HAVE HOPE,” with the ‘O’ as a red lipstick kiss.
“I’m happy for myself, but it isn’t the same as I wanted it to be,” says Farrell, who is now pursuing his master’s degree at WKU.
Even in death, Cheryl continues to motivate and inspire people.
Because Cheryl’s family could not afford her funeral, friends raised the money in little more than week. Williams and a friend designed and sold more than 200 “Have Hope” hoodies at $40 each in less than 30 minutes. A second order of 400 more hoodies soon followed and sold out. Smith and the Office of Diversity Programs acted as a hub to take donations from faculty and staff at WKU, which amounted to more than $1,000 to help cover her funeral.
“That is her definition,” Smith says of so many people wanting to help Cheryl. “Sometimes, we do a lot of things for people, and then we sit around and go, ‘No one does anything for me.’ Cheryl could never say that. Cheryl did for you and made her want to give back to her.”
Donetta had never realized the impact Cheryl had on others during her life, she says.
“It’s like she’s a legend,” she says. “There was so many people at that wake and her funeral. Even her minister said that out of all the wakes and funerals he’d been to, he’d never seen one that big. They was coming in after it was time to go. A lot of people, they showed a lot of love.”
For all of Cheryl’s progress and growth at WKU, Smith wanted to make sure she was recognized.
Smith initiated the process to get Cheryl’s degree awarded posthumously as her way of saying, “Baby, you did it.”
“It wasn’t an easy process,” Smith says. “We had to go back and forth with administration, and I had to sell the case several times, tell the story, several times, of her life at Western and why I believe she needed to get (her degree).”
WKU’s posthumous degree policy states that an undergraduate student “may be considered for a posthumous degree if, at the time of death, he or she was in good academic standing and had completed a substantial portion–generally 75 percent—of the program requirements for the degree sought.”
Donetta says Cheryl’s accomplishments—both in school and in life–amaze her.
“I was so proud she didn’t have no children,” Donetta says. “My (younger) daughter told me Cheryl wanted to have kids after she graduated from school, got her little fashion line, was financially stable and had a husband. That’s how she wanted it.”
Cheryl became the first member of her family to graduate from college when she earned her degree in interdisciplinary studies in summer 2013.
“For me, when I got the picture of her degree, when it finally hit the ODP office, I just couldn’t do anything but cry,” Smith says. “Because that was it.”
The day before the one-year anniversary of Cheryl’s death is overcast and windy. The temperature never rises above freezing.
Outside The Gillespie, a small group gathers to remember Cheryl. It was part memorial and part press conference.
Donetta wears a black sweatshirt designed by Williams adorned with “HOPE” in red lettering. The ‘O’ is a lipstick smooch made out of rhinestones. She stands with her loved ones as she speaks to reporters from three Louisville TV stations.
“It’s been rough—sad,” she tells them.
Donetta asks for anyone with information to go to LMPD so the person who murdered Cheryl will be caught. A tear runs down her face.
“We’ll have a little closure knowing he’s off the street,” she says.
Donetta lays a bouquet of colorful daisies on a grate underneath The Gillespie’s sign. She and her youngest daughter, Loveit, take a minute before getting back in the car and leaving to visit Cheryl at the cemetery. Her headstone had been placed just a few days earlier.
Donetta says her faith brings her comfort in dealing with Cheryl’s loss.
“I was always taught, don’t question God’s word, but I’m having a problem with that,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Why Cheryl?’ But I guess He wanted Cheryl.
“The only thing that really keeps me going is that I believe she went to heaven, her soul went to heaven. She’d give you the shirt off her back.”
Williams—who graduated with his undergraduate degree in fashion merchandising on Saturday—believes his friend achieved the status of a legend on Earth and now uses her talents in heaven.
“She’s probably like the angel who’s helping people in the gates, you know, fixing their hair,” he says. “She’s always helping people.”
Harris, who has since graduated from WKU with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, keeps photos of Cheryl on his desk and office wall.
“I see that picture and just…and it sounds cheesy—but her just glowing,” he says, gesturing to the picture from a newspaper clipping on his wall. “You know how people explain that ‘Ahhhh!’ moment? That. That’s exactly how I see her. Sometimes when I’m going through a rough time, or I’m busy at work, I look over here and I just look at her…just see her smiling down on me and letting me know that everything’s going to be alright and just to keep pushing.”
Smith says she has chosen to focus her memories of Cheryl on her life and successes, not the violence or person who ended her life too soon.
“I picture this chick on her leopard print throne in heaven smiling at everybody, because she was somebody who wanted the best for everybody,” she says. “And for her to see Terrance doing his thing?
“I know she’s just up there saying, ‘You better go.’”