Shannon Stafford: “She Was Like a Flawless Diamond”
It takes a lot to make a grown man cry. Especially in Preston County, where they just don’t. Centuries of struggle and tribulation have rendered these macho Mountaineers strong and stoic, when it comes to showing such emotion.
But on Friday, April 27, as the lid on Shannon Stafford’s white casket closed with a permanence no one in the funeral home was prepared for, grown men in Preston County wiped tears from their eyes and wept like little old ladies.
It seems particularly poignant that as a foster child who was removed from her biological home, Shannon never fell through the figurative cracks in what many people in this country call a broken system, one that often does more harm than good.
Shannon was different than so many other foster children who do fall through, often ending up crippled for life. So just how is it, after successfully reaching adulthood and becoming a mother herself, she died fighting for her own daughter, Faith?
Because that’s what happened: Shannon died trying to stop her only child from suffering the same abuse that led Shannon and five of her siblings to be removed from their biological home.
Fortunately, Shannon didn’t just survive in foster care with George and Gladys Adkins in Kingwood. She thrived. Ask anyone who knew her. Like, Gwenda Adkins. Gwen met Shannon when she was seven. Shannon, like their other foster children, called them “Papaw,” and “Mamaw,” and would later introduce them to people as her parents.
“Shannon was easy-going and sweet and unassuming,” Gwen said. Even after leaving her foster family and going to college, she would always call and check on them, or return home to visit and help them.
Shannon was blessed to have been placed with the Adkins family, who said they had more than 30 children come through their doors during the 23 years they were foster parents. She was blessed because the Adkins are no normal foster parents: each child was special to the couple.
“But there was something extra special about Shannon,” her foster brother, Barry Adkins, said during Shannon’s funeral service. While there, Shannon became a leader of sort in his parents’ home, because she loved people, and people wanted to be near her.
“And how she loved children. There was something special about this girl, how . . . children were drawn to her. She just seemed like a magnet to children and you could tell how much she loved children, how much she loved Faith,” Adkins said.
Relating how, following her death, someone asked him to describe Shannon’s qualities, Adkins said he couldn’t.
“There’s not enough good words in the dictionary to describe Shannon . . . how caring she was, how compassionate, how kind, how tender, how forgiving,” Adkins told the group who had gathered to tell Shannon goodbye.
Crystal Martin is Shannon’s biological sister, and four years her senior. Martin tried to convey a sense of who Shannon was, as a person. After acknowledging that she herself isn’t a morning person, she said Shannon would often call and wake her up, only to find Martin in a bad mood.
Sounding very upbeat and happy, Shannon would ask, “‘What’re you doing?’ She’s giddy at all times,” Martin said. Or she would say, in a singsong voice, “Good morning Buttercup, what are you doing?”
Shan, as Martin called her, “was really shy until you got to know her.” But because she was so sweet, “you cannot be mean to her. You can’t,” Martin said.
“No matter what kind of day it was, she was cheerful,” Martin added. “I think of her every second.”
It seems like everyone who knew Shannon felt likewise, and her foster family obviously adored her. “she really was like my sister, the only sister I had,” Tyra Nester said. The two girls spent five years together in the Adkins home, so Nester got to know Shannon during her teens, from age 14 to 19.
“Shannon never fought with anybody. Not at all. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body,” Nester said.
“If she was upset with somebody, the most she would ever do was grunt.”
Perhaps that unwillingness to argue with loved ones was what caused Adkins to say that “loving” is the best word to describe Shannon.
Mary Newton agrees. “She taught us how to love. How to forgive people. She just was full of love. She taught me more about love in eight months than I knew in 55 years,” Newton said.
Newton is Nick Helms’ mother, and the last person Shannon spoke to before she died. The two women were on their cell phones talking when Shannon was shot.
“She taught us how to forgive . . . she just taught me that life’s too short. Life’s too short,” Newton said. “Not that you can’t get mad. You can get mad, but God wants you to forgive.”
Newton also spoke about Shannon’s magnetic personality. “She was so great with kids. She loved kids, loved them. She was so good with my granddaughter. (Lakin) just loves her.”
Tabitha Jeffries said Shannon was better with her own children than she is herself. Jeffries was Shannon’s best friend during their childhood years after Shannon moved into the Adkins’ home, next door to Jeffries.
“She just had a way with kids. She was good with them. She has more patience than me,” Jeffries said, slipping into present tense as though the shock of Shannon’s death still hasn’t sunk in.
Whenever Martin would tease her own children, Shannon would always come to their rescue. “She would say, ‘Don’t do that,’ and then add, ‘Aunt Shannon will save you,’” Martin said. “She was so good with my kids and they would rather go to her than to me,” Martin added.
During her early years in foster care, Jeffries said Shannon was “fun, full of energy, hyper.” They went to church, played basketball together and went roller skating at the civic center or swimming in the city pool.
“If she wasn’t at my house, I was at her house and if we weren’t at each other’s houses, that means one of us was grounded,” Jeffries said.
When asked if she ever saw Shannon be mean to anyone, Jeffries almost takes affront to the question—and then says the same thing so many other people have said about Shannon.
“She didn’t have a mean bone in her body,” Jeffries said. “She liked to watch horror movies, and the worst thing she ever did to me was stand in the laundry room and scare me . . . after we watched a scary movie.”
During high school, Shannon was the type of person who would have been nice to you no matter who you were. “Shannon was never that type of person, that would hurt somebody else,” Courtney Austin, a former classmate, said.
It seems hard to believe someone so good could die so young, without realizing her dream of becoming an early childhood teacher. That’s because Shannon was very close to obtaining her undergraduate degree, where “her love would be bestowed on others deeply and often,” Gwen said.
Describing the beautiful blonde mother of one as “a sweet soul (who) chose to see the good in everyone she met,” Gwen wrote a tribute that was read at the funeral. In it, she said “Shannon was like a flawless diamond, sparking with a million lights in a dark world. We are the fortunate ones to have loved her and to have had her love in return.”
During the past several months, Shannon faced a particularly challenging divorce and custody battle. But even that couldn’t make her be mean to Faith’s father.
“She didn’t have a mean bone in her body . . . Even after all the terrible things they did to her and said about her, she wouldn’t say one negative thing,” Helms, who was Shannon’s boyfriend, said. “I told her I just couldn’t believe that she would let stuff roll off her back and just keep on going. She would say it was her faith, ‘it’s not me.’”
Helms said it was heartwarming to see Shannon interact with his young niece, Lakin. “She would see Shannon come in and run and give her a hug,” he added.
Adkins agreed Shannon’s faith was her stronghold. “Hers was a life of understanding . . . of tenderness. I don’t know that I’ve ever met . . . someone more forgiving than Shannon Stafford. She didn’t have a vengeful bone in her body. If somebody did her wrong, she’d just smile and come back again,” Adkins said.
Gwen, who accompanied Shannon every week during supervised visits with Faith, took that a step further. “She bent over backward being civil to people who don’t know the meaning of the word,” Gwen said.
“Faith was her life,” Adkins said.
“She loved that little girl more than her own life,” Helms said.
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Daleen can be reached at email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Berry has expertise in overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment, and can be pretty funny when she wants. She’s an award-winning author, editor and journalist who speaks at conferences around the country. Berry was one of two keynote speakers addressing a national audience at “The Many Faces of Domestic Violence,” the 18th Annual Conference of the Association of Batterers’ Intervention Programs on March 1, 2012, in Anaheim, Calif. She recently spoke to social workers from all over the country at the “Hope for the Future: Ending Domestic Violence in Families” conference at the University of California, Berkeley.
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