The day she killed herself, Ashley Marie Billasano tweeted about sexual abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her father. The 18-year-old Rosenberg high school senior had complained to Child Protective Services, and had tweeted her despair over CPS being unable to find enough evidence to go forward.
To most people who saw her, Ashley appeared most of the time to be a smiling, friendly, bubbly girl who loved the theater and Lady Gaga. She was blessed with a few close friends who, toward the end of her life, knew about the pain underneath. Although Ashley confided her allegations to these friends, her anguish was just too much. On November 7, 2011, she decided that the only way to end the pain was by a tank of helium and a plastic bag.
In the following days, her mother, Tiffany Ruiz-Leskinen, told local and national reporters that authorities failed her daughter. She sold wristbands and t-shirts through a foundation in Ashley's name. She presented herself as a crusader for justice.
Tiffany had herself accused her own father of abuse. Although he was charged in 1994, the charges were dropped when Tiffany disappeared and prosecutors could not locate her. Tiffany accused her father of the abuse shortly after she moved back in with him at age 17. She also accused him of molesting her when she was eight. The thing was, she had taken Ashley -- then an infant -- with her when she moved back in with her father.
Some years later, Tiffany married a man who forced Ashley to perform oral sex on him when she was six years old. Not long after that, Tiffany went to prison for five years for aggravated assault.
Although there was apparently not enough evidence against her father, Ashley could not wait to get away from him and go back to a woman who had repeatedly put her in harm's way.
As alone and hopeless as Ashley felt, her tweets were read worldwide, and many other young women have posted stories of abuse on a Facebook memorial page for Ashley. Some of these people, as well as Ashley's friends, want to keep her story -- and the investigation of her father -- alive. Other family members believe doing so will not allow Ashley to rest in peace.
Either way, Ashley's final thoughts will remain online in perpetuity. A memorial to unbearable pain and a tragic way to bringing about an end to that pain. Ashley wanted that preserved. And now everyone who ever loved her has to live with it.
Read "@TheEnd," this week's cover story.
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