TAMPA — Looking back, the signs were there: glimpses of abuse, emotional and verbal. But Ashley Atherley never let on to her parents that she was the victim of domestic violence. Now the 28-year-old graduate of Bloomingdale High School is dead and her estranged husband is on the run from charges he murdered her.
The slaying happened three weeks ago in California, but law enforcement officials say 29-year-old Edly Atherley may be headed to Hillsborough County, where relatives and friends live.
The couple moved to San Bernardino, Calif., from Tampa two days before Christmas 2012 against the advice of Ashley’s mother, who said she knew something was wrong but could never get her daughter to admit she was the victim of domestic abuse or to help.
“I begged her not to go,” said Lucia Robles, Atherley’s mom, at a Thursday afternoon news conference in front of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. “But his main goal was to get her as far away from us as possible.”
Red flags went up within months of the two getting married in 2008. Edly Atherley was jailed, charged with pushing and shoving his wife. Five days later, the charges were dropped because she refused to press charges.
“She thought she could change him, I guess,” Robles said, surrounded by about 100 family members and friends of her daughter, many of whom held hand-made signs that said, “Justice for Ashley” or “Wanted” with a picture of Edly Atherley beneath the words. The photograph was the mug shot from the 2008 arrest.
Scott Hall, Ashley’s father, said he couldn’t be in the same room as his son-in-law after the marriage because he suspected a controlling personality that was taking over his daughter’s life.
Atherley’s behavior went beyond driving a wedge between his wife and her family. He also distanced her from her many friends and even sold her car so they only had one vehicle, he said.
“I talked to her many times about my fear that it would escalate,” he said, “but, I could never get her to admit she was the victim of domestic violence.”
“She was listening, but she was just not admitting it,” Robles said. “I think she wanted to fix him.”
San Bernardino police say Ashley Atherley went to lunch from work the Friday after Thanksgiving and never returned. Her body was found on Dec. 1, beaten and stabbed in her home. She was the mother of two girls, 5 and 2.
Robles and Hall returned from California on Wednesday and renewed their plea to the public to watch for Atherley and call law enforcement if they see him.
Edly Atherley was charged on a warrant with her homicide but has not been found. He was last seen in San Bernardino last week. Robles said she knows he has friends in Port Charlotte, Texas and Belize.
Robles said her daughter had left her husband a few weeks ago because of his physical abuse. Though family and friends viewed the move as a positive, moving out brings its own set of danger, said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay, a support group for domestic violence victims. Moving out, she said, may have pushed Edly Atherley over the edge.
“How you leave is as important — if not more important — than just leaving,” she said. “You have to have a good exit strategy.”
Ashley Atherley left suddenly and that can enrage an abuser because it signals a loss of control, said Murphy, who has known the family for years because a relative worked for The Spring of Tampa Bay.
“It’s a scary decision,” she said. “To leave is the single-most dangerous moment in that kind of relationship.”
She said it was evident that Ashley Atherley was a victim of an escalation of emotional and verbal abuse.
“It’s a pattern you see play out in a lot of domestic violence situations,” she said. “Not every one ends in death. But some do.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Domestic violence reaches into all communities and in the United States:
• 1 in 4 women will experience violence during her lifetime.
• 3 women a day will die at the hands of their husbands or boyfriends.
• 15.5 million children live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year.
• 1 in 5 female high school students are physically and/or sexually abused by a boyfriend.
Source: The Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence