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Demand for shelters grows

by Juliana Keeping Published: August 26, 2012

“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.

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by Juliana Keeping
Enterprise Reporter
Juliana Keeping is on the enterprise reporting team for The Oklahoman and Keeping joined the staff of The Oklahoman in 2012. Prior to that time, she worked in the Chicago media at the SouthtownStar, winning a Peter Lisagor Award...
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