“If you are hanging on for that baby, you don't have to hang on any more,” Ashleigh Lindsey's mother whispered into her daughter's ear.
The baby Lindsey had carried for four months no longer had a heartbeat.
“Mommy will be OK. It's OK for you to go if this is too hard,” Tara Woodlee told her daughter.
Within 15 seconds, Lindsey died in a Plano, Texas, emergency room.
“We let her pass away,” Woodlee said.
This was not how life was supposed to end for the vivacious, high-spirited 20-year-old woman who loved country singer Loretta Lynn, played the guitar and piano and dreamed of being a singer.
Ashleigh Lindsey had been on the run, hunted by an ex-boyfriend intent on ending her life.
Joshua Mahaffey, 29, of Lebanon, shot her in the shoulder and head the afternoon of July 13 before killing himself south of Enos in Marshall County. Lindsey was taken by helicopter to a medical center in Plano. By midnight, she was gone.
Lindsey was killed the day before she was scheduled to enter a Texas shelter, said Anna Marcy, a victims' advocate who was working with Lindsey through the Crisis Control Center in Durant. There is no shelter for battered women in Marshall County, where Lindsey's ex-boyfriend took her life.
Her death underscores the ongoing need for services and shelter for domestic violence victims in Oklahoma, where 68 people have been killed this year in domestic violence-related homicides through July 31, according to the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Board, which tracks domestic violence-related deaths with the attorney general's office.
More women are seeking shelter than ever before at the same time funds for the emergency housing are drying up, domestic violence program directors around the state said.
What went wrong?
The domestic violence program in Marshall County, which included services but not a shelter, shut down in late 2011 due to financial difficulties, said Lesley March, chief of the attorney general's victims services unit, which certifies 29 domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Oklahoma.
Despite the setback, Lindsey had accessed services like counseling in Durant, 45 minutes from her home. The center covers four counties in the rural Oklahoma near the Texas state line.
In the months before her death, Lindsey had changed her phone number and her address numerous times since leaving Mahaffey.
He had threatened to kill not only her, but her family in Texas if she were to run there, which is why she refused to go home, her mother said.
“Mom, they're going to be able to protect me,” she told Woodlee of her plans for the shelter.
“Ashleigh did everything possible to remain safe,” said Marcy, the victims' advocate in Durant.
She had left a six-month relationship that included physical and emotional abuse and filed for emergency protective orders. She was three months pregnant with his child when, during a violent fight, Mahaffey kicked her in the stomach and left bruises all over her body. She left.
“I think her abuser was bound and determined to cause her harm if not kill her. If she had been on Mars, he would have found her,” Marcy said.
Lindsey's mother wondered if closer proximity to a shelter would have saved her daughter.
“I think one of the things that would have helped her was to have a shelter in that county,” Woodlee said.
Shelters, victims struggle
Women like Lindsey make plans to enter Oklahoma shelters to escape those trying to harm them. They stay — much longer lately — because they lack the financial resources to get on their feet, shelter directors throughout the state said.
At the same time, a lackluster economy and slashed federal and state funds have hit domestic violence programs — like Marshall County's — hard in recent years. In turn, programs are turning to the cash-strapped community for help, directors say.
Oklahoma women struggle to balance income with hiding. Lindsey was intent on finishing her workweek at an Enos restaurant before seeking shelter, her mother said. After her Friday shift, Mahaffey found and killed her.
Clients at the Women's Resource Center in Norman used to stay for a maximum of 30 days, said Kristy Stewart, assistant director. With a long waiting list for affordable housing elsewhere, women have recently stayed at one of the shelter's 16 beds or two pullout couches for as long as a year.
“We always stay full,” she said.
Additional fundraisers and generosity from the Norman community have helped the program stay afloat, Stewart said.
It's the same story in Tulsa, said Donna Mathews, associate director of Domestic Violence Intervention Services. The 50 beds are usually full, and women often stay overnight in sleeping bags on the floor. Demand is higher than ever, but the program's funding took a $400,000 hit — about 10 percent of the budget — this year as state and federal funds dried up, Mathews said.
Leaders at the YWCA of Oklahoma City hope the community will be able to reach deep into their pockets to support a new shelter. The new facility will nearly double the capacity of the existing Passageway shelter to house up to 85 women. The organization has begun a $15 million capital campaign, executive director Jan Peery said.
As in Norman and Tulsa, it's rare to find an empty bed at the YWCA, she said.
Domestic violence programs elsewhere in the state have begun to expand to meet a growing need.
Wings of Hope Family Crisis Services in Stillwater opened its new shelter in February. Construction for a new shelter for Safenet Services Inc. in Claremore is under way. Both shelters are funded with private grant support.
‘It doesn't have to be like this'
Days after Lindsey's death, Marshall County was hit with another instance of violence that stunned the community. Malinia Kae Villacana was arguing with Russell Neasbitt before being shot in the neck twice with a 12-guage shotgun July 17, The Madill Record reported.
The two had a past relationship. Villacana is recovering from her injuries. Neasbitt was charged with one count of shooting with intent to kill and is being held with bail set at $750,000, said Donny Raley, Marshall County undersheriff.
A vigil was held at the courthouse in Madill to honor the victims and raise awareness about domestic violence.
A shelter or program can only do so much, Marcy said.
“It takes a whole community to keep a victim safe,” she said. “We have to work together.”
Woodlee wishes more people would have spoken up for her daughter.
“I think it all could have, in several ways, been prevented,” she said. “Different neighbors told her ‘Go home to you mom,' but they didn't call the police.”
Experts recommend friends of those in domestic violence situations call a state hotline — (800) 522-SAFE (7233) — that will connect them with resources and advice regarding domestic violence situations.
As Lindsey's friends and family grieve their loss, they are also full of hope that their loved one's story inspires others to take action against domestic violence — before it's too late. Though she lost her daughter just over a month ago, Woodlee already plans to speak at two Oklahoma conferences on domestic violence.
“Something good has to come out of this,” Woodlee said. “This kind of domestic violence in your homes is not normal. It's not right. There are people and places that can help you, and I believe with all my heart that's what she wants, is people to know — women to know, children to know, it doesn't have to be like this.”