The statistics are gut-wrenching:
• One in three U.S. teens ages 14-20 have been victims of dating violence. Young women in this age group are at a three-times greater risk than are any other demographic.
• Annually, 1.5 million high school students nationwide experience physical abuse from a dating partner.
• Violent behavior often begins between sixth and 12th grades (ages 12-18).
• Women ages 16-24 experience the highest per capita rate of intimate partner violence.
• Each year an estimated 1,200 deaths due to relationship violence occur — that’s more than three per day.
The facts and figures are eye-opening. But how can such grim outcomes be deterred? Knowledge affects change.
• 82 percent of parents believe teen dating violence is not an issue but 58 percent were unable to correctly identify all its warning signs.
• Three in four parents have never talked to their children about domestic violence.
• It takes a victim an average of seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship before the separation becomes final.
• Leaving an abusive partner may be the most dangerous time in the relationship; women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the weeks after leaving their abusive partner than at any other time during the relationship.
All of the above statistics are included in a tri-fold pamphlet from the Ashley Doolittle Foundation. The organization was founded in March 2017 by Ashley’s mother, Ann Marie Doolittle, in memory of her daughter.
It was June 2016. Ashley Doolittle had just turned 18 three weeks earlier and graduated from Berthoud High School with plans to attend Colorado State University in the fall to major in agriculture business. Her life had always revolved around horses: she learned to ride at age 5; belonged to 4-H (where she spent eight years) and Thompson FFA (two years as an officer); was part of the Boulder County Fair and Rodeo Royalty program.
Doolittle participated on the Boulder County Horse Judging, Horse Bowl, and Hippology teams. She was a member of several National Champion horse judging teams, including the 2014 Quarter Horse Congress National Team, the Arabian Nationals Champion Team for three consecutive years, and the National 4-H Western Round Up Champion Team, where she was the 2014 Champion High Individual Overall. Through FFA, she was named 2016 High Individual Overall State Champion.
There couldn’t possibly have been a girl more excited and eager about her future, except for one growing concern.
Since her junior year, Doolittle had been dating Tanner Flores. A happy beginning gradually morphed into trouble as 19-year-old Flores became controlling and jealous. He often looked through her phone, accused her of seeing other boys, tracked her daily activities, objected to her male friends (some of whom she’d known since childhood in 4-H, and sternly forbade her attendance at parties when she’d begin college.
College was the last thing on Flores’ personal radar screen. He was a high school dropout with stated intentions of working in his father’s trucking business. But a series of bad decisions with a fatal outcome would curtail even those vague goals.
ENDING THE RELATIONSHIP
One year after Doolittle and Flores had begun dating, she finally ended their relationship, post several previous failed attempts. One week into that final break-up, the beautiful teen with so much promise was found dead from three bullet wounds to her head. The horrifying details dominated Colorado media for many months and went national.
Flores’ subsequent trial in autumn 2017 took just seven days. Witnesses and evidence chronicled in detail Flores’ twisted, evil deed, seemingly spurred on by the controlling mindset that if he couldn’t have Doolittle, no one would.
Larimer County Sheriff’s Office investigator Aaron Horowitz, a specialist in inspecting digital forensic evidence including cell phone and social media data, read a long list of text message exchanges between Flores and Doolittle from the day before her death.
One from Flores accused her of cheating on him. He hoped she realized what she’d thrown away. He regretted how much money he’d spent on her. And he said, “I’m going to do something stupid now. Bye.”
Doolittle denied his accusations. “I never cheated on you. I never did anything with anyone while we were together. Our relationship has been over for a long time. I wanted to be friends but that isn’t possible.”
The exchanges continued, with Flores begging, “Can we meet tonight please Ashley? I won’t survive tonight.”
“Yes you will,” she replied.
But, sadly, Doolittle agreed to meet Flores the following day at Lon Hagler Reservoir southwest of Loveland, Colo.
Flores’ father testified that his son had access to firearms kept safely locked away from the family’s younger children. With at least one of those guns, now loaded, Tanner Flores met Doolittle at the reservoir on June 8, 2016. The next day, the young woman was reported missing.
On June 10, Flores was apprehended on his deceased grandfather’s property in Colbran, Colo. (on the Western Slope) to which he’d driven with Doolittle’s body in his truck. A neighboring property owner had called law enforcement after observing his activities through binoculars. He carried a body wrapped in a blanket from the house to his truck. The neighbor saw Ashley’s arm swing out of the blanket.
“I wanted to not believe what I saw,” Samantha White testified.
But what she saw had been accurate. Ashley Doolittle had been murdered by Tanner Flores, who’d spend the rest of his life behind bars. Two families were destroyed. An entire Colorado community, 4-H and FFA members, plus The Boulder County Fair and Rodeo membership, were all in shock and grieving.
Found guilty of first degree murder, felony murder, and second degree kidnapping, the young man would spend the rest of his life in prison: life in prison plus 32 years, with no possibility of parole.
At Flores’ sentencing, he had no comment. Ann Marie Doolittle stood at a podium a few feet from the convicted man dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit, his feet and hands securely restrained.
She bravely spoke to the standing-room-only crowd in the courtroom, telling them about her daughter’s lifelong love for horses, how the family would never have the joy of walking her down the aisle or of seeing Ashley’s children.
“Our hearts go out to the Flores family,” Doolittle sincerely and generously continued. “A part of me feels sorry for Tanner but that does not mean he should not be punished for his actions. We want him to carry out the rest of his life in prison.”
Now Flores languishes in a closely-monitored, caged environment, convicted of a cruel and selfish crime driven by the need to control another human being.
Ashley, who’d been designated Boulder County Fair and Rodeo Lady-In-Waiting at the time of her death, was posthumously crowned 2017 Boulder Queen. Always with a heart for children, she’d proposed a Princess Program for younger girls to complement the existing Royalty Program.
As of 2017, her suggestion was implemented. Each year, two selected girls in The Ashley Doolittle Princess Program become “Ashley’s Princesses.” They each wear chaps bearing that designation and an Ashley pin with her photo on it. Through this honor bestowed on young horsewomen, Ashley Doolittle’s memory lives on through their work in the program.
Doolittle believed that Rodeo Queens are the preeminent ambassadors of the Western lifestyle, which exemplifies freedom, self-reliance and loyalty. As queen, she hoped to promote the fair and rodeo, and to introduce others to the lifestyle she so loved. Even beyond her lifetime she has done and continues to do so.
Ann Marie Doolittle has set about trying to somehow salvage hope for others from her daughter’s tragic death. Her research on teen dating violence led her to establish the Ashley Doolittle Foundation, an organization designed to present a clear picture of the dangerous trend in today’s culture.
In 2010, a University of Virginia student, Yeardley Love, was beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend just days prior to her graduation. To spread awareness of the extent of teen dating violence, Love’s mother began a foundation, based in Bronxville, N.Y.
Using One Love Foundation’s curriculum, ADF conducts Escalation Workshops. These include “an engaging and emotional film-based discussion transforming the way students view and discuss relationship violence.” These workshops are free, with all costs covered by monies raised through horse shows and other fundraising activities.
One upcoming such combined event is the Ashley Doolittle Memorial All-Around Horse Show and JACKPOT Ranch Horse Show to be held Sunday, June 23, 2019, at the Boulder County Fairgrounds Indoor Arena. The show’s Western, English, Reining, halter, and showmanship classes, begin at 8 a.m. The JACKPOT portion starts at 5 p.m.
The Foundation’s Third Annual Boots Buckles & Bling Gala at Grace Place, 375 Meadowlark Dr., Berthoud, Colo., will be on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 5-11 p.m. The festive evening will include appetizers, drinks, dinner, silent auction and live auctions, dancing and a special performance by Aubree Bullock. Arrive by 6 p.m. in semi-formal Western attire — boots and buckles encouraged. Tickets, $100/person or $700/for table of eight, can be purchased online at www.ashleydoolittlefoundation.org/gala.
BREAKING THE CYCLE
Ann Marie vigorously works through Ashley’s foundation to spread information to help break the cycle of dating violence. Many youth (currently 10 young women) as well as adults are seeking to become Escalation Workshop facilitators. This includes Ashley’s 18-year-old brother, Michael. (The siblings were just two years apart and extremely close.)
The foundation includes a Victim’s Advocate from the Larimer County District Attorney’s Office on its board of directors. Ann Marie also would like law enforcement to participate in the foundation’s work.
She’d love to see the workshops get into area schools. One principal and a School Resource Officer have expressed how impressed they are with the program, especially for 11th and 12th graders.
Ann Marie always recognized the degree of her daughter’s involvement in equestrian and agricultural endeavors. Ashley seemed to know people from all across the state of Colorado. But, Ann Marie is amazed by the true extent of her rodeo queen daughter’s influence. “I never realized the impact she had on people until after her death.”
Anyone seeking additional information about the Ashley Doolittle Foundation, to volunteer at/attend a fundraiser, to become an Escalation Workshop Facilitator, or other associated topics should contact Ann Marie Doolittle at www.ashleydoolittlefoundation.org; firstname.lastname@example.org; phone (720) 226-5402. ❖
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com.