The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil,
but because of those who look on and do nothing.

~~~ Albert Einstein

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Going Home

I've waited for word that the remains discovered in a property in Columbus Ohio were those of Ashley Howley, perhaps on the slight chance that despite the location being significant- it was within eye shot of the home of the prime suspect in her disappearances father's house- that it wouldn't be a positive match. Today, shortly after 2 pm, law enforcement officials confirmed that the remains were positively identified as Ashley's. This news comes with a sigh of relief- providing answers to the long wondered question of what became of the 20 year old former Michigan resident, and at the same time, it brings a painful end to the hope, however small, that Ashley was just missing, not dead.

Ashley had been missing for just around a year prior to my first reading about her case. I had been looking for information on another 20 year old missing Columbus Ohio woman, when I stumbled upon Ashley's story. I wondered if there was a connection- two beautiful young women, vanishing around the same time of year although a year apart, last seen within miles of each other. But, although there turned out to be no connection between the two- by the time I'd figured that out, Ashley's case had wiggled itself into my mind, and into my heart.

Ashley had a difficult life, leaving Michigan and her family behind for a fresh start in Ohio. She'd made a few choices that only highlighted her struggles- she made mistakes- but they didn't over shadow her beautiful outlook on life, or the endless hopes and dreams that she had. She had a future full of amazing discoveries ahead of her, and perhaps if not for one fatal moment, she'd be here today living life to the fullest, and shining as brightly as she could.

Ashley had met and dated for a time, Robert P. MacMichael II. Perhaps it was the same feeling of being able to 'fix' that 'lost puppy' which so many women suffer from, or perhaps Ashley just hoped that the good in him would outlast the evil. Sadly, the young man with a list of criminal charges behind his name was able for a time to sink himself into Ashley's life. But when their relationship became to abusive for Ashley to remain, she did her best to break free from him. He'd assaulted her the day prior to her vanishing, and she'd called police to report it. At that time she declined medical attention. It would be one of the last times anyone would see her alive.

Exactly what happened in her last hours of life is not yet known, neither is her cause of death. But, in the years of following the case, there are some important details that I've gleaned from conversations with her family and friends. You see, regardless of her mistakes in life- Ashley was loved, she was smart and talented- a delight to be around. She had a smile, a way of just spreading her happiness to everyone around her. She could light up a room with her warmth, and was a dedicated friend. On a few occasions, I was lucky enough to get a moment to speak with her mother, she'd share stories of Ashley as a child, or recant how proud she was of Ashley for this or that. How the moment that Ashley failed to call on on a certain day- she knew that something terrible had happened. And of course, how she longed to find the answers of what had happened to Ashley. I'd known that she was ill for some time, and during our last conversation had promised that I'd do whatever I could to ensure that Ashley wasn't forgotten. She passed away some time back, I wish she'd had the answers to her questions before she died.

I don't usually cover domestic violence, and missing persons has never really been my main focus... but Ashley's story touched me more than you could imagine. I've been in her shoes- left a life behind to start over, dated the wrong man. I've often sat back and thought how amazing it is that her story could have been mine- and my story could have been hers- if not for a slight unknown chance of luck on my behalf. Ashley had a lot to live for, dreams that she should have been able to fulfill. A life that easily was cherished by those that knew her best.

Many times I've hoped that despite all the odds against it- Ashley was just missing, just had left, had found a new life for herself and for some reason had just not made herself known. Hope... just that she hadn't been stolen from all us. It seems ignorant of me, knowing the likelihood of that, knowing the facts that swirl around the case... knowing the stats were racked against the possiblity of her being alive. But non the less, I hoped. I'm relieved that her family and friends have been able to find some closure, with the new evidence. That she will soon be taken home to rest in peace, and all the while I ache for their loss- which I am sure they are feeling all over again.

Ashley was beautiful, not just on the outside- but as a person she was beautiful. Although I wish her story had a different ending, I'm thankful that at last she'll be going home.