Local News

Pitt Co. receives federal grant to fight domestic violence

Posted September 23, 2014 5:43 p.m. EDT
Updated September 23, 2014 6:35 p.m. EDT

— Two years after her estranged husband shot and killed their 3-year-old son, Jessie, Christie Adams can't hold back her tears when she thinks about how he died or she hears the terrifying reminder from that night.

Adams called Pitt County 911 on July 13, 2012, reporting that the boy's father, C. J. Adams, called her and made the boy tell her what was about to happen to him.

The last words she remembers: "Mama, I'm going to die tonight."

Motivated by an ongoing domestic dispute with his wife, authorities say C. J. Adams shot his son before turning the gun on himself.

"He was supposed to be in kindergarten this year," Christie Adams said Tuesday. "All these little things bring all those memories back.”

The murder-suicide also left the small town of Grifton stunned and Pitt County sheriff's investigators traumatized and determined to stop similar violence in the future.

Sheriff Neil Elks remembers the tragedy all too well.

"I saw Christie rock her baby for three hours after he was deceased," he said. "The case inspired me greatly to see what we could do."

More than half of Pitt County's homicides from 2008 to 2011 were the result of domestic violence – compared with 22 percent statewide – according to the sheriff’s office.

Elks applied for and received a federal grant to help prevent domestic violence murders.

Now, as part of the Domestic Violence Homicide Prevention Initiative, Pitt County has been named one of four recipients in the country of a shared $2.5 million federal grant that allows investigators to follow up on and track domestic violence cases – another tactic to help curb deadly violence.

Other counties include Cuyahoga County in Ohio, Contra Costa County in California and the Borough of Brooklyn in New York.

Local law enforcement agencies in each area have agreed to undergo a more rigorous review of policy, protocol and evaluation of victim response.

For example, officers will now track each domestic violence case using what's called a "lethality assessment" – a list of questions to determine a victim's future risk.

Officers will also collect data about domestic violence cases that a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's School of Social Work will use to create a profile of an abuser who is more likely to become homicidal – a profile that's already being used with some success in Raleigh, Cary and Charlotte.

"This really gets us much farther along from the first response," Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden said.

The two-year grant – Pitt County's allocation is $466,787 – will pay for a lethality assessment program coordinator, officer training, the UNC researcher and other costs.

The goal is to hopefully prevent tragedies like what happened to Jesse Adams.

"Jesse's death was not, and will not be, in vain," Pitt County Sheriff's Sgt. John Guard said.

Christie Adams is now raising Jesse's 6-year-old brother, Christopher, and while nothing can bring Jesse back, she says it is comforting to see local agencies working together to help stop domestic violence and domestic violence-related deaths.

"I hope that my story – and the fact that we have lost Jesse and C. J. – will let other people know that it doesn't have to be that way," Adams said.