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Inside story: What happened to the unborn son Rae Carruth tried to kill

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In June I drove to Charlotte to meet a boy who should have been dead. And if not dead, at least miserable. The boy had permanent brain damage. He could barely walk. He could say only one or two words at a time. He was 12 years old, and his grandmother still fed him by hand. His mother was dead. His father was in prison for arranging her murder.

The boy was Chancellor Lee Adams, son of Cherica Adams and Rae Carruth. You may have heard the story. Thirteen years ago, when Carruth was a wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers, he and Adams had a short-lived romance. When she told him she was pregnant, he told her to get an abortion. When she refused, he paid a two-bit criminal to beat her up and cause a miscarriage. When the two-bit criminal failed to do the job, Carruth raised the stakes: he wanted both mother and baby killed.

The operation did not go as planned. Cherica Adams was struck by four bullets, but she survived long enough to make the 911 call that implicated Carruth and eventually sent him to prison. And although the baby's brain was deprived of oxygen in the aftermath of the shooting, resulting in cerebral palsy, he was born alive.

I grew up in an unusual household. We didn't have television until I was 14. But we did listen to the radio. My favorite program was The Rest of the Story, broadcast every afternoon on NewsRadio WGST in Atlanta. In less than four minutes, the narrator, Paul Harvey, would spin out wild and true tales that always featured an astonishing revelation at the end, followed by the same nine words: "And now you know the rest of the story."

Something about that idea stayed with me. And when I got into the news business, it became a question I could apply to dramatic events. In 2008, a newspaper colleague named Jeff Testerman gave me a news clipping from 1992 about a high school basketball game in Alabama during which one team had so many players foul out that by the end only two players were left on the floor. And then those two boys came back and won the game. Sixteen years later, I wanted to know the rest of the story. What happened to those boys? Did this achievement somehow change their lives? Well, I eventually found out. And the answer, "2 on 5," became my first feature for Sports Illustrated.

Anyway, I saw the headlines from the Carruth story back in 1999 and 2000. But it wasn't until this spring that I started wondering about the rest of the story. What happened to the boy they couldn't kill? How was his life turning out? And so, after reading some old news clippings, I called the lawyer of the boy's grandmother and asked if he would put us in touch. He did. And that's why I drove to Charlotte in June: to meet Chancellor Lee Adams and his grandmother, Saundra Adams, the closest person he has to a mother.

On the surface, it's hard to imagine a set of life circumstances much worse than this. Which is why I was so astonished when I saw the boy. It's my job to put things into words, but I still can't find the right words to describe him. None of them say it strongly enough. He is the happiest person I've ever met. There's a light inside him that I've never seen anywhere else. I've talked to several other people about his effect on me, and they say it happened to them too. Wherever he goes -- to church, to physical therapy, to the Special Olympics -- he makes people feel better by his mere presence. When he looks into your eyes and says hello, the whole thing feels almost spiritual. And then, of course, you have to ask yourself: If a kid like this can be so happy, what right do I have to complain?

How did a brain-damaged infant become a young man of such mesmerizing power? It has something to do with the power of love.

Here are some of the other things you'll read about in my story, "The Boy They Couldn't Kill," in this week's Sports Illustrated:

• Rae Carruth's brazen attempt to gain legal custody of the boy he tried to kill.

• Carruth's 10-year campaign to erase the last words of the woman who put him in prison.

• And finally, how the father-son reunion might look when Carruth gets out of prison. His projected release date is October 22, 2018. His son will be almost 19 years old, and Carruth will have his own story to tell.

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