A MURDER RUNS THROUGH IT
Chance Douglas Smith
An obituary for Chance Douglas Smith, which ran in the Charlotte Observer on December 16, 2003, was just 30 words. The first 25 read as follows:
STANFIELD — Chance Douglas Smith, 6, died December 13, 2003. funeral is 2 PM Wednesday at First Baptist Church, Locust. Visitation is 6–8 PM tonight….
As it is now more than sixteen years after the original publication, the remaining five words of the obituary have been archived, and whatever those five words were, they cannot have clarified much about who Chance Douglas Smith was or how he met his fate.
As obituaries go for small children who are murdered, this one is unusually brief. There is no mention of who Chance’s parents are or what other family members might have survived him. There is no indication of where he went to school, or what his favorite things might be.
Chance was only six-years old when he died. Not a lot of time to live one’s life, and the abruptness of how his life ended, combined with the callousness of one family member in particular, made this a story that would not let me rest.
A picture is worth a thousand words
There is an undated a photo of Chance on the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation website.
On the right is a little boy with an irrepressible smile. On the left is a very patient dog standing on its hind legs while the little boy — dressed in a somewhat too-large tee shirt — gives the dog a big hug. The boy’s heart and his whole being are wrapped up in the dog he is hugging.
The photo takes on a heart-breaking poignance when you come to realize that that dog was better to Chance than some of the people in Chance’s life.
Three days before his obituary was published, Chance was a living, breathing little boy who was visiting his grandfather, and up until 3:49 p.m. on a cold, Saturday afternoon, it seemed that everything was fine. But in fact everything wasn’t fine, and Chance’s world, and the world of everyone around him was about to be turned upside down.
A call goes out
On December 13, 2003, the Locust Police Department in Stanly County, North Carolina, received a call that a child had gone missing.
The child in question was Chance Douglas Smith. He had been visiting at his paternal grandfather’s house. Some reports say he was last seen entering a wooded area with the family’s dog shortly before 4:00 p.m., other reports placed him as last being seen in a horse pasture near his grandfather’s residence.
Wherever he had been, Chance was now missing.
Law enforcement was quick to respond to the call for help, and a search party composed of around 100 — including volunteers, police, and firefighters — searched the property in and around where Chance’s grandfather lived.
The weather had taken a turn for the worse, and the searchers were working both against the clock and the freezing rain.
Freezing rain doesn’t freeze until it hits the ground or solid objects, so a road or a field can quickly turn into a sheet of ice, but both because of and despite the difficulty of the weather, searchers continued their efforts, and after almost eight hours of looking, at 11:30 p.m., one of those volunteers — a Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer — found Chance, face down in a horse pasture along Scout Road.
Chance was badly injured and barely alive, but because he was alive — even just barely — he was transported to Stanly Memorial Hospital, fifteen miles away in Albemarle.
A race against time
I am sure that both on the way to the hospital and once he arrived, every effort was made to save Chance, but despite those efforts, in the early hours of Sunday, December 14, 2003, Chance Douglas Smith was pronounced dead.
With Chance’s death, the investigation that had begun when the police were called out to search for the missing boy continued.
The medical examiner performed an autopsy, and the manner of death was determined to be homicide. It also became apparent that the fatal injury, a blow to Chance’s head, had not occurred in the field where he was found, but was inflicted somewhere else, and his near lifeless body was then dumped in the horse pasture.
To the frustration of the Locust Police Department, when he was questioned it became clear that Chance Douglas Smith’s grandfather was unwilling to share what he knew about the circumstances surrounding Chance’s death.
Chance’s death set in motion a series of events that resulted in the demise of his parents’ marriage. This in turn led his father and paternal grandfather to move to Tennessee, while Chance’s mother moved to South Carolina.
Who was Chance Douglas Smith?
The story of Chance’s brief life seems to have been buried with him, and in the absence of any family outcry or interest in identifying who murdered Chance, if you want to know anything about this particular little boy, most of the information comes from public records. Paradoxically, the records that provide the most information about his life, are those that document his death.
Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, Birth Index
Chance Douglas Smith entered the world in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on June 11, 1997.
North Carolina Death Index
Chance is described as a never-married male. He lived in Stanly County in a place that was not Albemarle, the city where he died. The zip code for his residence — 28163 — places his home in Stanfield, North Carolina, approximately two miles south of where he was murdered. His death date is listed as 14 December 2003.
Then, at the very bottom is this note:
Work Injury: Injury did not occur at work, Disposition: Burial in-state, Autopsy: Autopsy Performed, Attendant: Medical Examiner, Findings: Autopsy findings were considered in determining cause of death, Hospital Status: Hospital ER/Outpatient
U.S., Social Security Death Index
Here, his name is given as Chance D. Smith, his birthday is 11 Jun 1997 and his his date of death, 14 Dec 2003. It is noted that his Social Security Number was issued in 1997 and the issue state is North Carolina.
U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index
This index notes that Chance was known both as Chance Douglas Smith and Chance D. Smith.
Additional details include the fact that his birthplace was Charlotte, North Carolina, that he was a U.S. Citizen and was allowed to work, and that evidence other than a birth certificate was submitted at the time his application for a Social Security Number was assigned.
Find A Grave
Chance is buried in Stanly County at the Community Baptist Church Cemetery, in Locust, North Carolina.
The people who have taken on the responsibility of documenting Chance’s final resting place have made sure that his memorial is as complete as possible and free of advertisements.
Shortly before the fifth anniversary of Chance Smith’s murder, The Stanly News & Press ran a piece about the progress of the investigation into the kindergartener’s murder.
Locust Police Chief at the time, Mike Haigler, said there were many leads and that they had a lot of information and a suspect. The suspect, he added, did not live in Locust.
Chance’s grandfather had been brought back to Locust for questioning, but continued to be less than cooperative. Of Chance’s grandfather the police chief said:
“We know he knows who it is, but for what reason he is not willing to cooperate with us.” — Mike Haigler, Police Chief of Locust Police Department
In the seventeen years since Chance’s death, there has been no public plea from the family asking that whoever murdered Chance come forward or be brought to justice. There are few retrospective anniversaries examining what happened to the little boy. No commemorations by the family at the five or the ten or the fifteen year mark of his being gone.
The silence is deafening.
The Locust Police Department which is the lead agency on the case does have a theory of the crime, but the evidence they have does not yet support the imperative that the case be proved beyond a reasonable doubt, and any witnesses who could speak up on Chance’s behalf have so far remained silent.
But the Locust Police Department has not given up. They have kept the evidence, and when someone with knowledge of what happened to Chance on that cold, wet Saturday in December, is willing to speak up on behalf of Chance instead of shielding his killer, they will be ready to listen and help bring a measure of justice, however, small to Chance.
Find A Grave
North Carolina Death Index
North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation Website
The Stanly News & Press
United States Social Security Index