Photo: Mary Ellen Mark
It was raining one day last winter when Cockerham visited her old street. She hasn't lived there since 2005, when she lost the house to foreclosure. The police station has moved to newer quarters, but the library and school are still within sight of the porch where she used to stand and listen for the morning bell to ring as she watched her children walk to class.
Today she and her two boys live in an apartment in Winston-Salem about 40 miles away, depending on social security benefits of about $800 a month. The nightmares that once made her call out in her sleep have mostly subsided. Dominiq, now 7, knows his father and sister are dead but is too young to remember. Rashieq, who just turned 13, has Ellerbee's features—"his face, his walk, his hands; he's the spitting image," Cockerham says. Every time she looks at her beloved son, she realizes she is able to forgive his father a little more.
Candice's ashes rest in the living room, on a rickety bookshelf with the family Bible and a stack of yearbooks. Some days Cockerham drapes one of Candice's favorite knit caps over the wooden urn. It makes her feel as though her daughter is still with her, close by. "I wanted so much for her," she says.
Phoebe Zerwick, a former reporter for the Winston- Salem Journal, is an investigative journalist who lives in North Carolina.
Next: Get the latest update on Vernetta's trial
Abusive men: Spot the red flags
We Hear You!