Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 22, 2012
By Shavonne Potts
CONCORD — Jo Carol and Warren Nance are living a life sentence.
Jo Carol’s daughter and Warren’s stepdaughter, Cambria Cannon, was murdered a year ago today. She was shot by a friend after an argument and died a short time later, police say.
The Nances live every day with the constant reminder their daughter, who was 30 and lived in Kannapolis, won’t spend the holidays with them, won’t call to chit chat and won’t see her 8-year-old son, Isaiah, grow from a precocious child to an adult.
Venisha Chakhan Bajja, 30, Cannon’s friend for some time, was charged in her shooting death.
Bajja is scheduled to go on trial next month to face charges in Cannon’s death.
Cannon was shot once in the left side after the two reportedly argued at Bajja’s Weldon Street home in Gastonia.
Bajja initially was charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury. When Cannon died later that morning, the charges were upgraded to murder.
Bajja remains in the Gaston County jail awaiting trial.
Cannon’s family members said they plan to be there.
“I get butterflies in my stomach every time,” Jo Carol said of attending court.
The family even attended a pre-trial hearing in January.
“We don’t want Venisha to look around and say we didn’t care,” Warren said.
The family doesn’t want Bajja to be sentenced to death.
“Life would be good, because that’s what we are serving,” Warren said.
The Nances say Bajja’s family has not tried to contact them, though they don’t blame them for what happened.
“They had nothing to do with it,” Jo Carol said.
“I don’t know how I would react,” Warren said.
Jo Carol said she would be open to speaking with Bajja’s parents, if they contacted her.
Warren said if Bajja’s family wanted to contact them, he thinks they’d have done it by now.
Bajja had at one point lived with Cannon.
“Venisha has been in this house,” Jo Carol said.
The night of Cannon’s death, the Nances received a call from the hospital at 3:54 a.m., Warren recalled.
He gave the phone to his wife, who doesn’t really recall what was said beyond the fact that Cambria had been shot.
“She said, ‘You need to come right away,’ “ Warren recalled.
They arrived at the hospital and spoke with the doctor, who had left for the day, by phone.
The detectives informed the Nances they had the suspect in custody.
“I said, ‘Is it Venisha?’ “ Warren said. “He said, ‘Yes.’ “
The family has made a conscious decision to enjoy life more.
“Because you never know when your end is coming,” Jo Carol said.
The family also spends more time together.
“I learned to realize tomorrow is not promised,” Warren said.
Warren also takes better care of himself, so that he can be around to teach Isaiah about being a man, he said.
The couple, who have adult children, have had to make adjustments to their lives in raising a child again.
The Nances try to keep Isaiah active with Cub Scouts and Tae Kwon Do.
“I want him to have the life I think his mama would’ve liked for him to have,” Warren said.
Warren and Isaiah have “guy time,” and he spends time with Jo Carol at the YMCA and with them both on the weekends for church activities.
The week Cannon was killed, she was supposed to attend Isaiah’s school dance.
She died on a Tuesday and the Nances decided to let Isaiah attend the dance anyway.
Many days are hard for Jo Carol, she said, since she’s retired and is home much of the day.
“There’s been days where I have sat and cried,” she said.
The feelings of sadness rush in, Jo Carol said.
“My family and church family have been very supportive. And my other children, nieces and nephews still call and check on me,” Jo Carol said.
Warren preoccupies his mind with work, and he is also a minister.
“I try to keep myself busy. I feel like I have to stay strong,” Warren said.
His co-workers, church members and strangers ask how the family copes.
“One day at a time,” Warren said he tells them.
“We pray. We rely on the Lord. I have to practice what I preach,” he said.
Cannon is on everyone’s mind at the holidays, which is a time they’ve begun placing more emphasis on in her absence.
“She would come by to eat for the holidays,” Jo Carol said.
If her daughter, who everyone called Cam, had to work or wasn’t able to be with the family for holiday dinners, she would eat, talk a bit and head back out.
At one time, Cannon was looking for a new car. Her mother would drive her to work and to run errands. They began to talk almost daily.
There is always a constant reminder that Cannon is not with them.
When the family now gathers, they talk about the “crazy” things Cambria did or said.
“Now when we get together we talk a lot about her,” Warren said.
Cambria loved life, her mother said.
“She was passionate about life. She would come in the room louder than anybody else. She was always lively,” Jo Carol said.
A son’s love
“She was very sensitive and happy,” Isaiah said.
Isaiah and his mother always watched movies together. Mother and son would pick out their favorites, eat noodles and laugh together.
The two also read a lot.
“She was one of those people who was always smiling and grinning,” Jo Carol said.
“I get that from her,” Isaiah said quickly.
Isaiah recalled fondly his mother’s favorite cartoon character — Betty Boop, an image of which is engraved on Cannon’s headstone.
“We spent her 31st birthday shopping for a headstone. We would have preferred it to be a birthday party,” Warren said.
In the days, weeks and months following Cannon’s death, the Nances decided as a family they would ignore all talk of the incident on social networking sites.
“We decided as a family we would not read Facebook,” Warren said.
There are little reminders of Cannon throughout the home. A school picture sits on a side table in the living room and others line the wall.
Cannon’s favorite color was purple and as a reminder of the life she lived, a niece of the Nances created purple, black and white bracelets that the family wears.
Many of Cannon’s relatives including her parents, niece, son and others never remove their bracelets.
Had she lived, Cannon would likely be working as a nurse. She worked at a nursing home, but would have received further training as a nurse, her parents said.
Isaiah said he knew his mother would be enjoying life, “having fun” and working.
The family hopes people remember the fun-loving person Cambria was and not recall her with sadness.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.