AIKEN - They speak of her in the present tense: "Ashley has a loving and forgiving nature." "Ashley has a warm and open smile." "Ashley likes Japanese animation and is learning the language with her dad."
Morgan and Marilyn Johnson do not want to believe what they know is true or imagine the parts they don't know. Ashley Marie Johnson, who planned to have dinner and see a movie with a former boyfriend Friday night, is dead. Deputies found her lying inside her date's front door Saturday afternoon, about 12 hours after she died. She bled to death when someone severed her carotid artery, the neck artery that carries blood to the brain, an autopsy showed.
Lt. Michael Frank of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office said Ashley, 17, had been stabbed and cut. Deputy Coroner Tim Carlton said there also were defensive wounds.
Jason Charles Sheahan, 19, called police and showed them Ashley's body. He has been charged with murder.
"Part of what cost my daughter her life was her ability to forgive people, no matter how much they hurt her," Mr. Johnson said.
She had befriended Mr. Sheahan last year when he was kicked out of his home, Mr. Johnson said. "She persuaded me to take him in, and, for awhile, he lived with us."
When Mr. Sheahan moved out of the Johnsons' home, Ashley went with him. She dropped out of school. The couple had a rocky relationship, however, and she had moved back into her parent's home. She planned to finish school at her own pace.
The details of what happened to Ashley will come out in court, Mr. Johnson said. "All I can say is that she forgave him, and she continued to try to be his friend."
But what nobody knows is whether Ashley was coming in the door of Mr. Sheahan's home or trying to get out of it when she fell. "There are a lot of unanswered questions," Lt. Frank said.
Jean Gorthy, who once taught Ashley culinary arts at Aiken High School, said she had been delighted to have a student who had wanted to be a chef. "She was a big part of our class," she said Monday, a few hours after talking with Ashley's former classmates about what happened.
She was Mr. Johnson's only living child. A son, born to Ashley's mother, died in his crib from sudden infant death syndrome when he was just two months old..
"Ashley was my delight," Mr. Johnson said. "I was there when she was born, the first thing she saw when she opened her little eyes. I was looking forward to all the things a father looks forward to."
A career Navy man, he went to sea when his daughter was a year old. When she was 3, he and her mother divorced. Ashley lived in Phoenix, Ariz., with her mother until she was 15 years old. Mr. Johnson retired from the Navy and moved to Aiken, where he was employed at Savannah River Site.
Mr. Johnson said Ashley was an ordinary girl in most ways. She had a black-and-white long-haired guinea pig named Tribble, a passion for video games such as Final Fantasy 8, and a gift for languages. She also had a list of places she wanted to go - Canada, the Philippines, England and Germany.
She and her stepmother liked to take walks together, and Mrs. Johnson says she now treasures little mementos from their strolls.
"I hope they are just making this up," she says. "I hope that she is coming home any minute."
Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or firstname.lastname@example.org.