A grandmother's story: Her mom, sons were killed. Caring for grandsons offers second chance

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall
York Daily Record

Sharneice Sellman hardly uses the restroom alone any more.

Her 3-year-old grandson, Dy'Mir, trots along at her heels, eager to talk about how he's going to have a good day at daycare. 

"Nee, I love you," he'll say most mornings. She tells him she loves him more, and he holds the door open for her. 

After daycare, Sellman will have a snack ready for him and his 11-year-old brother, D'Aries: fruit placed in a Coca-Cola-themed container. It matches the mini refrigerator she bought them. 

They have a routine. They have her, and in the absence of the boys' mother — Sellman's daughter — she's just happy to be alive to care for them. 

In 2017, the rattling off of bullets from a car in Baltimore had stopped, and Sellman stood up from the porch and erratically patted down her body. Her palms were painted in blood after she touched her backside. 

Aunt Pooh, you’ve been shot.  

Sellman laid down on the sidewalk, waiting for the ambulance. A paramedic asked how she knew to lay a certain way to lessen the impact of her injury. Her son had told her, she said.

The people at the scene who knew her didn’t understand. Her son had been dead for a few years.  

No one checked on her to see if she was OK, she recalls. The absence of support reinforced her decision to rebuild a life in Pennsylvania. Bandaged and tucked with gauze, Sellman, 48, drove herself and her grandson away from Charm City the day after she was shot. 

Sharneice Sellman talks about who she lost in her life and how she learned to love herself at her home in Springettsbury Township on June 3, 2021. Behind her is a family tree stencil that says Live, Laugh, Love.

She doesn't regret leaving Baltimore behind. Her new home provides a safer environment for her two grandsons.

D'Aries and Dy'Mir are her anchors, the two people she can love and keep whole, as long as she can keep them safe. Her house is more than a home. It's a promise to her grandsons that she will do her best to not let them succumb to harrowing statistics, including the fact that Black males between ages 15 and 24 are dying prematurely from homicide and suicide. 

The foyer in Sellman’s condo is an epicenter for natural sunlight. The decals on her tan walls carry themes surrounding laughter and love. 

Seated in front of a family tree stencil — the rectangular spaces for pictures, empty —Sellman fidgets in a backless, long gray chair, searching for a comfortable position. 

A shattered tailbone. An inoperable bullet buried in her femur. Sellman lives with a chronic ache in her hip.

But that only accounts for her physical pain. She’s carrying far more each day.

Her mother — murdered.

Her firstborn son — killed.

Her youngest son — murdered, too.  

And she’s made untold sacrifices to break generational trauma, raising her grandchildren and separating herself from her daughter who's in Baltimore. 

“All I’ve known is hurt,” Sellman said.

Losing a mother, stability 

Angela Dandridge was a stylish woman, dressing her 4-foot-11-inch frame in plaid skirts and knee-high boots often. She worked hard, but she also enjoyed a party, ready to turn it up and dance when Stevie Wonder started singing. 

“My mom was an angel,” Sellman said. 

Sellman was 4 years old when that world shattered. Thanksgiving weekend, Dandridge braided her younger daughter’s hair while they wore matching nightclothes and watched an episode of “The Flintstones.” Sellman fell asleep, and just before 8 a.m., an argument started. Dandridge had been talking to another man, and her husband said if he couldn’t have her, no one could. 

Boom. The bullet went through her temple.

Dandridge was only 23 years old. Her husband was sentenced to 25 years in prison. Sellman lost the woman who had protected her from the world, who still had so much to teach her and show her. She would find, as time went on, that protecting children is an impossible task. They will make mistakes, they will get lost in the world sometimes, and even when you love them with all your heart, that might not be enough. 

Sharneice Sellman has lived in York for a few years, but most of her life was spent in southwest Baltimore. Her mother was murdered when she was four years old and her father has spent the majority of her life in prison, January 3, 2020.

Sellman's biological father was in and out of jail, so she moved in with her mother's parents. That’s when the next phase of hurt began: abuse. 

She had nice clothes, was always clean, and never hungry, but these conveniences masked a cruel reality happening within the home. Sellman was molested for the next eight years, she alleges, by different family members. 

She was 12 when an uncle pinned her down after she got out of the shower. Half-naked, she said, she ran to a neighbor's house and they called the police. No one was charged, but the word was out and for that, her family ostracized her, she said. 

Sharnell, Sellman's older sister by five years, had a closer relationship with their grandparents. She'd been living with them for as long as Sellman could remember. She never knew why. That truth was entangled in the family secrets she despises. 

She started working at 13 to buy her own things. At 17, she had a Rolex watch. By the time she graduated, she was pregnant with her first son. The father was a guy she’d known since middle school, but they weren’t a couple. Sellman was on her own.

“I was always the fighter,” Sellman said. “Everything I learned, I learned on the streets.”

Two sons gone too soon

Sellman’s first son, D’Aries, didn’t make it to his second birthday. The happy, dimple-faced baby loved the color red, a little basketball he barely parted with, and eating bread.

Her daughter would name Sellman's first grandson D'Aries, after the older brother she'd never get to meet. The name, however, makes Sellman even more on guard and alert with her grandson. She couldn't save the child who held the name before.

More:A 9-year-old boy died in his room. Here's how Pennsylvania did — and did not — respond

Sharneice Sellman with a rubber duck toy she has held onto from her first son D'Aries' first birthday. He was killed when he was 20 months old.

Sellman left D'Aries with his grandmother for a few days in 1993. The grandmother told Sellman he was too tired to be picked up, advising her to come back another time.

The next day, two police officers knocked on Sellman's door. They told her they were looking for parents for a child that was hungry and the other was dead. Sellman was immediately defensive, dismissing their questions. Her son was safe, so she thought. He was with someone she knew. The police proceeded into her home and saw a picture of D'Aries on the wall. 

They took Sellman to Children and Youth Services and delivered the horrible news.

Laura Snowden, the grandmother, had put him in a scalding tub that burned his right foot and buttocks. The entire time Sellman called Snowden to arrange for a pickup, D'Aries was dead.

He died from blood poisoning from untreated burns. Snowden was charged with first-degree murder and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Online records indicate she was sentenced to 10 years, but a little over half of the sentence was suspended. Snowden died in 2005. 

"How do I always save everybody else and I couldn't save my own?" Sellman said.

She hardly left the house after D'Aries was killed. Certain family members she avoided because she felt like they could have done more to help by means of offering to babysit. Maybe then, D'Aries wouldn't be dead. 

Fate gave her another son. He would live 17 years longer than her first, but time, for her, would stop just the same. 

Tymaine was always her No. 1 fan, and he encouraged her to want and do better for herself. He had light brown eyes and excelled in every sport Sellman put him in, including lacrosse. The 19-year-old shared everything with his mother. A little too much information, at times, Sellman jokingly admitted. She found joy in Thanksgiving again that year, sharing a meal with Tymaine in her Pennsylvania condo.

It was the last meal they had together.

He was shot and killed nearly two weeks later, tallying Baltimore’s 200th homicide in 2014. A 26-year-old was charged with first-degree murder in 2015, but the disposition was not immediately available. 

“That was my best friend,” Sellman said. 

It didn’t matter how much she loved him or how often they talked about opening a group home for children. She saw herself in them, the hurt ones. Now, her "brown-eyed baby" was gone like the others.

Tymaine Sellman posted a picture of himself on Instagram Dec. 7, 2014. The 19-year-old was killed that same day in Baltimore.

Sellman still has Tymaine’s clothes that she retrieved from police: the blood-stained orange and gray hoodie with bullet holes, his blue New Balance sneakers, and True Religion jeans. The $77 in his pocket was given to Sellman's grandson, D'Aries, when he turned 7. He was only 4 years old when his uncle was killed. 

Tymaine posted a picture of himself on Instagram the same day he was killed. Sellman still comments on his post, telling him happy birthday and that she loves him and misses him. 

Multiple times she contemplated driving her car off the road to escape the pain. But she had to keep going for more than herself now. Her grandsons needed her.

Holding onto keepsakes, distrust  

The corner of Sellman’s living room is lined with more than a dozen plants. Two of the plants, she's unsure what kind, she has had since Tymaine was killed. She tends to them — even when she’s battling depression and insomnia — to keep them alive.

A stuffed gorilla hangs over the corner of her brown sectional couch. Tymaine was 14-years-old when he played a game shooting hoops at Kings Dominion and won it for her.

A stuffed gorilla hangs over the corner of her brown sectional couch. Tymaine won it for her one year when they went to Kings Dominion.

She wants to redecorate, pointing out that she wishes she had more pictures of her son D’Aries. Sellman smiled as she held the yellow rubber ducky he received on his first Christmas. A small purple pillow with bright green cut-out cloth letters reads “Pooh." Tymaine made it when he was in elementary school. 

Sellman was nicknamed “Pooh” when she was a kid because she had a round belly like Winnie the Pooh. 

She continues living around the items that connect her to her sons. She keeps them close. Her two grandsons, she keeps even closer.

Sharneice Sellman with her grandson D'Aries in a recent photo.

Sellman doesn’t trust anyone to watch them, which can be burdensome because she has never been on a vacation. She doesn't want them in crowded homes because she wouldn't be able to "pinpoint who hurt them," if she had to.

Sellman is also hesitant to make new friends and doesn't care for having strangers over. For a time, she continued to go back to the people and places that hurt her. The circumstances surrounding her shooting injury, she said, can attest to that. 

She tries not to go anywhere or stay out after a certain time. She'd go to work as  security personnel at a local high school and come straight home. She can’t risk it. Her grandsons need her. 

“I just do everything I can to reassure them that I got their back and if nobody else has them, I do ... I just try to do what’s best for them,” she said.

Like the butterflies in her bathroom decor, Sellman had to evolve into the best version of herself for her grandsons. That meant, distancing herself from their mother and other family members that disturbed her peace. 

She also took a break from things she used to cope, but never quite filled her voids: shopping, wine, and feasting on Maryland crabs. The shopping put her in a position, once again, to have her own. She borrowed makeshift mothers, fathers and family members all of her life. While shopping, she didn’t have to share. What she bought was hers. But what she really needed didn't have a price tag. 

“I always wanted love,” she said. 

Broken, but not crumbled 

Sellman was never taught to love herself first, though. Fasting from the shallow habits that distracted her from self-love gave her time to reflect. She started telling herself that she looked nice and loved herself every morning. 

Sellman wants to be there for people who feel like they have no one. She is adamant about letting hurt people vent. Letting them know that tragedy has knocked her down many times, but she’s still getting up.

She started an afterschool meetup for young girls called F.L.Y. — first love yourself. Sellman talks with them about their circumstances, navigating womanhood, and the opportunities that await them . She uses her story to emphasize that she is "not a victim, she's victorious." 

At home, she abandoned the protector persona that taught survival — the parenting her children received — and replaced it with love, loyalty, and consistency for her grandsons. 

She hasn't lost her sense of humor, either, cracking jokes about her "no call, no show" policy with dating that has "fired" even the most well-intended suitors.

Sharneice Sellman holds a pillow that was made by her son Tymaine when he was in elementary school. Pooh is Sharneice's nickname.

D'Aries and Dy'Mir ascend into Sellman's room on TV nights. They make a pallet using blankets at the foot of her bed. If they're lucky, Sellman made one of her famous coldcut sandwiches with all of the trimmings. Together, they'll watch movies and eat sundaes or snacks. 

They are her second chance, a catalyst for her best self — the woman worthy of her love and theirs. 

Jasmine Vaughn-Hall  is a culture reporter for the USA TODAY Network's Atlantic Region How We Live team. Contact her at jvaughnhal@ydr.com or (717) 495-1789. Follow her on Facebook (@JasmineVaughnHall), Twitter (@jvaughn411), and Instagram (@jasminevaughnhall).