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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Sarah McCullough, standing center, poses with her family in the studio at the Times Free Press on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Her family includes son Jarad Earley, standing left, her mother Sharon DeGraffenreid, standing right, her daughters Carmilah, left, and Carma, right, Williams and her youngest son Micheal [cq] Eric Williams III.

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Family struggles after shooting

Sarah McCullough was at a doctor's appointment when she got the call that her husband had been taken to a local hospital.

He had multiple gunshot wounds and was in critical condition.

Several witnesses told Chattanooga police that the victim, 32-year-old Michael Williams Jr., had been shot by 46-year-old Marvin Jermaine Davis just before 2 p.m. on Jan. 3 on the 4900 block of Jeffrey Lane, according to court records.

Surveillance footage captured the shooting and corroborated their statements. It also led police to Davis' vehicle and more witnesses, who said the suspect had been talking about how he shot someone.

According to one person, Davis said he "wished he did not run out of bullets, because he would have killed [Williams]," court records state.

The reason behind the shooting still isn't clear, but Davis is facing multiple charges, including attempted first-degree murder.

He is being held at the Hamilton County Jail on a $500,000 bond and will appear in court on Jan. 28.

In the meantime, Williams is fighting to stay alive, McCullough said. He lost so many units of blood that the blood in his body isn't his own, she added.

"He is a miracle right now to even make it past that first night," she said. "They told me to expect him pass that night, that he more than likely wouldn't make it through. The doctors told me that he's the sickest patient that they have ever seen. They say he's a fighter."

 

'HE WASN'T A TROUBLEMAKER'

McCullough said she doesn't know why he was shot. She's heard the rumors and she has her suspicions, but she hasn't heard much from investigators.

Williams was a family man, she said. He wasn't involved in gangs. His main focus was her and their children — ages 12, 7, 6 and 2.

"He wasn't a troublemaker," she said. "He'll give anybody the shirt off his back. He has such a good heart."

The couple have been together nine years, married two.

At the time of the shooting, they had been separated, hoping to work on their marriage, she said.

"Married people, we go through things where we kind of go away from each other to get stuff together," she said. "That's what we were doing. We were just trying to spend a little time apart — him focus on him and get things in order so that we can continue to work on our marriage."

But now he's in a medically induced coma.

Still, she visits as much as she can and talks to him.

"We have this bond," McCullough said. "It might sound weird, but I can feel what's going on with him."

She tells him she loves him. That it's OK. That she knows it wasn't his fault.

"I know that we wasn't living together, but I still love you regardless," she tells him. "I love you with every breath and bone in my body. And I'm going to be here through it all, no matter what happens. Imma be here."

The children have seen him at least once, she said. She's told them what happened to their dad.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Carma, left, and her sister Carmilah Williams pose in the studio at the Times Free Press on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"I wanted them to know because I didn't want to hide it," she said."I always feared my kids growing up and hating me for something."

They draw pictures and write letters for their dad, she said. And every time they eat, they pray for him.

"I hope that my dad will be OK, and he will feel better," 7-year-old Carma Williams prayed. "We love him with all our hearts. We will pray for him all day long, and he will live with us, and we'll cook him something to eat."

Carma said that before the shooting she cooked for her dad often. His favorite meal was broccoli and cheese.

"[The kids] help me keep it together," McCullough said. "So they make it better."

He loves his family, Williams' father, Michael Williams Sr. said.

"He was a real good kid. He loved sports, played football and basketball. He was just a well-liked kid."

When he learned his son had been shot, he panicked.

"Oh, man. I just — I went crazy," he said. "I almost lost it. You know, that's my son. That's my baby boy."

Soon after getting the news, Williams Sr. and his wife jumped on the highway to be by his son's side.

They're hopeful, he said.

"He's a strong man," Williams Sr. said. "He's fighting."

 

'HE STILL WON'T BE OUT OF THE WOODS'

Since the shooting, McCullough said it's been a struggle to keep her job while raising four children and taking care of her husband.

Williams was the main breadwinner in his home, McCullough said. He worked in construction during the day so he could watch the children while she worked at Amazon overnight. They made it work.

Now, without him, she's exhausted.

"I've been having a lot of breakdowns," she said. "I usually can hold it together till when the kids are asleep.

"Now it's just my mom that's helping me as much as she can. But she's disabled so she can't help too much. So I'm not really able to work as much as I should be able to. And because of what happened, when I do go to work, I find myself just stuck in a daze — just zoning out."

And sometimes she's even scared to go to work.

"I worry if I miss a call, because I'm the only one that can give consent for surgeries if he needs it," she said.

She also worries about the future. One of the bullets grazed his spine, so he will likely be paralyzed, she said. And he didn't have insurance.

"Even if he makes it out of here — because [he's 6 feet, 3 inches tall] and you see, I'm teeny," said the 4-foot, 11-inch McCullough. "And by him being paralyzed, he's going to need the mechanical lifts and things. He don't have insurance. I don't have a way to do that he still won't be out of the woods."

Before the shooting, before their separation, the couple had been living in a hotel room after being evicted by a landlord who decided to sell the property.

"I don't know what's to come in the aftermath when he gets out. I can't be in a hotel when he gets out, especially with all the medical equipment," she said. So she set up a GoFundMe in hopes of raising at least some funds.

She blames herself for not letting him move back in with her and the children.

"I know if I let him back home, he wouldn't be in this situation," she said, tears welling in her eyes. "He never got in trouble when he was with me. He never did. He always made sure he stayed out of trouble with us. So I just — I blame myself. I know it's not my fault because [the rumors aren't true]. But I know for a fact, if he was home it wouldn't have happened."

Now, she just tells him she wants him home. Even if he can't hear her, she reassures him.

"I just wanted you to get your stuff together," she tells him. "That's why I didn't let you back home. I just wanted you to go out and get things on your own.

"[But] I don't care if you ain't got your stuff together no more. I just want you to come back home. Because after this happened, I realized, it don't matter. The fussin' and fightin', it don't matter. It don't matter. It don't. It's crazy because sometimes it takes something tragic to happen for you to realize that that petty stuff don't matter."

Contact Rosana Hughes at rhughes@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6327 with tips or story ideas. Follow her on Twitter @HughesRosana.

 

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