Charity Lee hates Super Bowl Sunday. She can still recall the day — 11 years ago — when the police officers showed up at the Buffalo Wild Wings where she worked to inform her that her 4-year-old daughter Ella was dead.
In a piece she wrote for Good Housekeeping, Lee said that by the time she was 17, she had a heroin addiction. Nevertheless, she graduated with honors from her Atlanta high school and went on to study human ecology, with a concentration in child and family development, at the University of Tennessee.
Lee got pregnant with her son Paris during her sophomore year.
She wrote about how having a baby changed her life:
I finally had something to live for, something to look forward to, and I learned how to be happy … I remember feeling the deepest love you could imagine when he was born.
Paris was extremely intelligent and artistically gifted. Lee said he never displayed any homicidal tendencies or violence, though his father had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
However, the New York Post reported that Paris admitted to homicidal thoughts since he was 8 years old, which he would express through violent drawings. Additionally, there was an incident in which he ran down the street with a knife. He was hospitalized for a week.
A few years later, Lee gave birth to her daughter, Ella. The mom moved with her kids to live at her mother’s house in Texas. Lee wrote that Paris loved Ella.
When Paris was 11 and Ella was two, Lee relapsed on cocaine for six months. During that time, Paris even took the initiative to care for his sister. But he resented his mother for her drug addiction and claimed that she put her drug use before him.
Lee told the New York Post:
“The only regret I’ve ever had about my own personal behavior is my relapse. The fact is, it made him angry and he chose to handle it that way [by killing Ella].”
On Super Bowl Sunday in 2007, Lee was running late for work. She ducked into the bathroom, where Ella’s babysitter was bathing her. Lee wrote that her daughter kept asking her mother for kisses.
I kept kissing her goodbye. It’s my last memory of her.
Paris was angry with his mother because she had scolded him for spending too much money on clothing. She wanted to teach him to be frugal with his money.
Before Lee left for work, she said to him:
“I know you’re mad at me but we’ll get through this.”
After their mother left the house, 13-year-old Paris convinced the babysitter to leave. He then beat his sister, attempted to strangle her, then stabbed her 17 times. Afterward, he called a friend from school. But when the friend didn’t answer, he dialed 911 and reported that he killed his sister.
According to the New York Post:
“He pretended to follow the dispatcher’s directions and do CPR,” says Lee. “But that was all a lie.” Cops found no evidence of attempted first aid.
Lee wrote that she fainted when police arrived at her work and delivered the horrific news. Paris admitted that he wanted to kill his mother too, but after murdering Ella, he’d realized how difficult it is to murder someone. He also realized that allowing Lee to live and suffer over Ella’s death would cause her even more pain, the NY Post reported.
Two weeks later, in the District Attorney’s office, Lee would see Paris again.
He said to her:
“You used to say that you would never be able to kill anybody unless they hurt one of your kids. I bet you didn’t think it was going to turn out like this.”
Because Paris was a minor, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison, the maximum amount for minors.
When he was 15, Lee had him evaluated by a psychologist, who confirmed that he had psychopathic traits, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, include a lack of empathy and remorse.
Lee described her son as a predator. Once she learned this, she said, she was able to forgive him.
If I was swimming in a beautiful ocean … and a shark came up and bit my leg off, hopefully I would not spend the rest of my life hating that shark. Hopefully, I would understand that sharks are what they are. And, for better or worse, Paris is a shark. … In an effort to forgive the shark, you need to figure out what makes the shark work. That’s been my mindset since college, when I studied human ecology, and that’s how I think about my son now.
The New York Post reported that the mom continues to visit Paris, now 24, in jail as often as possible.
“I am not going to be that parent who abandons their kid.”
Lee started the ELLA Foundation (Empathy, Love, Lessons and Action), a nonprofit dedicated to violence prevention and human rights advocacy.
In 2013, she gave birth to another son, Phoenix, whom Lee considers part of a new beginning for her family.
She said that forgiveness is what allowed her to move forward, although she’ll never really get over what Paris did.
While I’ve learned to forgive Paris, you don’t ever fully heal from something like that. You learn to live with it … My son is a predator, but if I spent my whole life hating him, what good would that do? I can’t double guess the past. No one can.
Lee is now a public speaker and lectures on “motherhood, the death penalty, mass incarceration, forgiveness, and empathy.”
The mom discussed the events that lead up to and took place that Super Bowl Sunday, and the aftermath, in a documentary called “The Family I Had,” which aired last week on the Discovery Channel.