From Tragedy to Transformation: The Story of Ashley Pond’s Lasting Influence

To my dearest Ashley, 

This year it will be 22 years since you were taken from us.  You would be 35 today, so Happy Birthday sweetheart!  I wish I could give you a BIG hug!  I want you to know that you are remembered!  Every day I look at the collection of plush fish on top of my dresser and think of you.  It’s been because of you that I became a foster mom.  It’s because of you I became a fierce advocate for vulnerable and traumatized children and people.  I know you must know all of this because I can feel you as a guardian angel over me, so I think you must be keeping tabs on me from heaven.  This blog today is my birthday gift to you.  It is my attempt to tell the world about you, let them know what a beautiful soul we lost, and honor the influence you have had over my life.  So Ashley, I hope you have a fun and rowdy party in heaven in celebration of the big 35!

All my love and tenderness, Kendra

Trigger warning!  Before you read any further I want you to know this blog post is not directly about the topics of most of my blogs, although it most certainly involves betrayal and narcissistic abuse.  (Hell, I’m pretty sure the perpetrator is a sociopath, and way past narcissistic, but I can’t diagnose that.  But he is pure evil.)  But this story may be shocking to some as it speaks of a true crime story of murder and sexual abuse.  So if such topics are too triggering for you, I suggest you not read this post and instead go back to the blog menu and choose another post.

Have you had events in your life that have shaped you into who you are today?  Of course all of our experiences have shaped us, but I mean like a major event that seems to have changed the trajectory of your life.  I have too, and I want to tell you all about this one.  I want to tell you about Ashley.

Ashley Pond was born March 1, 1989.  Today, when this is published, would have been her 35th birthday.  It is so unfair that she is not here to celebrate that.  It’s unfair to the world that they don’t know her smile or laugh.  It’s unfair that she never got to make her big contribution to the world.  Who knows what she would have become?  You know who else was born in 1989?  Taylor Swift and Travis Kelsey.  Who knows, maybe Ashley would be in the news today doing something big and amazing with her life too? Maybe she would have been in People Magazine for something other than her abduction and murder?  Today my blog post is about Ashley, and it’s also about me, and it’s mostly about the ways we are unexpectedly connected to, and impacted by, others. 

Just before graduating Oregon City High School in 1999 I signed up with the Big Brother/Big Sister program.  I was excited to volunteer some of my time hanging out with and helping a local elementary student.  My “little sister’s” name was Ashley Pond.

I think she was in 4th or 5th grade that year.  She had beautiful brown hair, a mischievous smile, and an infectious laugh.  And she was always so excited to see me.  Most often I’d go see her at school and help her with projects.  Her teacher would often let her have an extra recess and we’d go outside and she’d just tell me all the things going on at school.  I know she felt special to have me show up and get extra help and recess and all, but I felt really special too, having someone light up with a big smile as soon as they saw me come in the door.

Other times I’d pick her up at her apartment and we’d go to the local hang out spot in Oregon City, the Dairy Queen, and get frozen treats and chat.  We’d go to the park and play and just hang out.  It’s hard to explain to others who haven’t experienced it, but that year with her changed me.  It touched me deeply.  I was always good with kids and always wanted to be a teacher or have a career with kids, but to be able to have an individual impact on a child, especially someone who had been through as much as Ashley had, that really started my thinking about helping vulnerable kids.

After my couple years with Ashley, I went out of state to go to college.  In those days cell phones weren’t as common, I didn’t have Facebook back then, and I lost touch with Ashley and her mom Lori, but I still thought about her often.

Then, early January 2002, I got a call from my mom letting me know that Ashley was in the news because she was missing.  I cried and prayed a lot, hoping she would be found quickly and returned home.  Weeks and weeks went by, and no one could find her.  Then in March when her friend Miranda Gaddis disappeared from the same apartment complex, at the same time of day, heading up to that same bus stop, I began to fear the worst.  How could this happen in MY town?  I grew up in Oregon City, had spent my whole life there until college and I could not imagine anything like this happening.

My mom saved every newspaper article that came out about Ashley, and sent them to me every few weeks.  Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months.  And before I knew it, I was back home in Oregon City for the summer.  I was watching the news, and reading the paper and trying to piece together anything I could to try to make it make sense.  I could not make it make sense.

News reports are interesting things.  I think most of us expect them to be well researched and give us the truth.  That doesn’t always happen.  Anna Song, a local news reporter, covered this story for months.  By chance she had interviewed Miranda one morning as she waited for the bus.  That was in early 2002 before Miranda was kidnapped.  Anna was personally invested in the story.  She was there on Beavercreek Road at the top of the hill, the entrance to the girls’ apartment complex day after day, often reporting in front of the house that sat at the top of the hill.

That’s part of the problem.  The house at the top of the hill was being rented by a man who is pure evil as far as I’m concerned.  His name will never escape my lips again even though it is seared into my memory.  As far as I’m concerned I don’t want him remembered, I want the girls remembered, so I will talk about Ashley and Miranda any chance I get, and never speak of him again.  But he was the father of their friend Mallori, and that is how he got to know the girls.

Part of the problem is that Anna was getting a lot of her information from a very unreliable source.  She was the only one who had interviews with this man, and she often repeated what he told her.  I don’t think she realized what she was doing; she was a fairly new reporter, and was trying to make sense of things, same as the rest of us.  And what this man was saying did help piece some of the mystery together.  Well…it helped piece together a story that put him in a much better light and directed attention away from him.

I will make a long, gruesome story a little shorter.  As we would later learn, this man had kidnapped both girls, and murdered them.  Ashley was kidnapped January 9, 2002 and killed the same day.  He had put Ashley’s body in a metal drum and was preparing to bury it under a concrete slab next to his house in early March.  When Miranda walked up the hill on the morning of March 8 to go to school he thought that she had seen something incriminating.  Fearing she would tell, he lured her up to the house by telling her that Ashley was inside and scared and wanted to see her.  But Ashley was not inside, and he murdered Miranda to keep her quiet.  

(This explanation of why he murdered Miranda was explained to Miranda’s sister, who went to visit the murderer in jail years later, and this is what he told her.  He is known to tell many lies, but I hope that this explanation is a time he told the truth.  It’s the only thing that truly makes sense, because he didn’t have any other reason to kill her.)

On the other hand, he killed Ashley because he had been molesting her, and he feared that she would tell and he would be arrested for that, so he killed her to keep her quiet.  He had spent more than a year grooming her before the abuse, thinking he could keep her quiet. I don’t know if he was aware at that point that she had already told someone, and he would later be charged with those crimes anyway.  Like a true narcissist, or sociopath, instead of taking ownership for his own actions, he selfishly went to great lengths to keep her quiet.  In so many interviews, when you hear him talk about Ashley, you could tell he hated her, and was glad with what he had done.  It’s truly sick.

I want to remind you, that if you go back and you watch old news stories from 2002, or true crime podcasts on the case, that whenever he speaks, it is lies.  There may be a little truth sprinkled in, but this is a known liar, and serial killer, so when he speaks of Ashley or her mom, I want you to take his words with an extremely small grain of salt!  Also know that when Anna is the reporter, even if you don’t hear him talking, she passed on a lot of false information she got from him.  Lies that other news stations did not circulate.  I have not listened to one true crime podcast yet who actually got the facts of this case right as it pertains to the girls.  And it just reminds me when the feelings of frustration come up, that these podcasters are telling HIS story, not the girls’ story.  Well not me, I will only tell the GIRLS’ stories.

It was the summer of 2002 when the case finally broke open.  He was arrested on completely unrelated charges of raping and attempting to kill his son’s 19 year old girlfriend.  His son, being mad about this, then told authorities what he knew about what happened to the girls, that his father had recently confessed to him.  That confession led to finally finding the girls in August, getting some answers, and finally being able to lay them to rest.  It also meant he could be charged for their murders and locked up forever.

I don’t think many people knew what Ashley’s mom Lori was going through.  Not only was she looking for her for months, pleading with the public to help find her, but she was pregnant with Ashley’s little brother Bryant.  Days before Ashley went missing she had gone with her mom to an ultrasound appointment where they learned that the baby was a boy.  Ashley was so excited for a brother.  But she never lived long enough to meet her baby brother.  He was born in June, and her body was found in August.  So while Lori was burying her daughter, she was also recovering from birth and caring for a newborn.  And on top of that, the news, mostly through Anna Song because she chose to believe a murderer over a mother, spread lies and horrible stories about Lori.  

I’m not able to imagine the level of grief and unfairness that Lori endured then, and that she still endures.  Because stories were not retracted, and because Anna’s reporting is still available, people believe Lori didn’t love Ashley.  That is the furthest thing from the truth.  Lori cared deeply for Ashley and I know she would trade places with her if she could.  She and Ashley had a lot of fun together.  Lori told me “She and I would laugh so hard we would cry.  Tears would run down our face, because we were having so much fun.  We loved to crawl in my bed, cuddle up with our favorite stuffed animals and whatever munchies we wanted to eat and watch movies until we would fall asleep in my bed.  We literally did that not too long before she died…that is one of my fondest memories of her before she died.”  They were really close.  I have a daughter who is now the same age Ashley was in 2002.  My daughter and I are like that.  We like to get my laptop and cuddle up under my covers and watch Netflix on my bed, and share snacks, and just be silly.  I can’t imagine that being taken away from me.

This man was filmed saying that in the summer of 2001 Ashley lived with him and his daughter Mallori because her mother didn’t want her.  That is a bold faced lie that was spread and video shown of him saying that over and over.  That summer she and Mallori were back and forth at each other’s houses all summer long, as they often were.  They lived just a few hundred feet from each other.  Growing up in Oregon City it was the same way for me.  I would go outside to play and you never knew if I’d be in my own back yard, at a neighbor’s, or at the apartments down the road.  And you never knew who would be at our house.  We didn’t have to set up a play date, we’d just go outside and see who wanted to play.  That is what Ashley was doing the summer of 2001, not living anywhere else.

In fact, I want to share with you just what kind of woman Lori Pond is.  After sitting in the courtroom, listening to the trial of the man who had murdered her daughter, when the verdict was read, she got up out of her own seat, walked across to Mallori who was bawling, gave her a big hug and whispered in her ear “It’s not your fault.  It’s still okay to still love your daddy,” and continued to hold and hug Mallori.  In that moment she could see another human in pain.  A little girl who’s two best friends were not only murdered, but by her own father, and now her daddy was going to be locked up forever.  Of course that is where he needs to be, AND a little girl was losing her dad.  Lori could look through her own pain, and love on her daughter’s friend who she dearly loved too.  This is not how the news has portrayed Lori, but this is who she really is. 

I’ve often called Oregon City “The biggest small town there is” when describing it to others.  I still can’t go home and go to the local Fred Meyer without seeing someone I know.  Once the girls’ bodies were found the whole community was mourning.  And most of us didn’t know what to do, so I just followed the example of what others were doing, and went to “the fence” to cry with other members of the community.  “The fence” was a temporary chain link fence that had been put up to protect the crime scene and keep people out, but instead it became a makeshift memorial wall.  They had let us know that all of the stuffed animals that were being left there would be donated to local law enforcement to keep in their cars and give out to children as they responded to other emergencies.

So I walked across the street from the fence to Fred Meyer and bought 2 bright orange plush fish.  I kept one, and placed the other at the base of the fence with hundreds of other plush toys that community members had left.  Why did I pick an orange fish and not a teddy bear or something?  Well, one of the projects I had helped Ashley with in school was on the life cycle of fish and how they migrate through Oregon City on their way to spawn.  The project was on salmon, but I couldn’t be too picky, I mean not that many stores sell stuffed salmon now do they?  So I settled for these cute orange fish.  And it just seemed perfect at the time.  (The photo at the top of the blog is me and Ashley holding her paper mache fish she made.  Unfortunately it’s a bit blurry because of age and the way photos were on film in 1998.)

And it’s fascinating how the act of placing one stuffed animal at the base of a temporary fence could leave such an impact, but it did.  I arrived at the fence feeling completely helpless and not knowing what to do that would be of any use, and I left feeling like I had at least helped one other child.  I imagined a first responder with that orange fish and believed that if it would bring even the tiniest bit of hope or comfort to another child, then it was worth it.  And that day walking away from “the fence” I made a vow to myself and to God that I would do whatever I could in the future to help other vulnerable children (and adults), in the name of Ashley, whenever I could.  I try very hard to keep good on that promise.

I took my copy of the plush fish back to college with me.  I called it “The Ashley Fish” and it sat proudly on my bed next to my pillow for years.  I started collectively calling all orange plush fish “Ashley Fish”, and when I learned TY came out with their Beanie Baby “Goldie” I bought a few, and have continued to collect them over the years as I have seen them around.  The fish on my bed stood as a constant reminder to look for ways to help vulnerable children.

When my son was born he quickly claimed my Ashley fish as his own, and growing up he called it Nemo no matter how much I tried to convince him to call it Ashley.  Ha.  To fall asleep each night he would rub the little button eyes as he drifted off to sleep.  When he was 2 or 3 the eyes had been rubbed so much they were literally barely hanging on by a thread.  Basically there were two holes where the eyes used to be, and because of the type of button eye, and the damage to the fabric I was not able to repair them on my own.  So, I found a doll hospital in Kansas City that repaired old and rare dolls and convinced them to please also fix our fish.  This fish spent a few nights at the doll hospital and then it was able to come home with us.  My son is 16 years old now, and he still has my Ashley Fish on his bed.  And I have my collection of TY Ashley Fish (Goldie) on my dresser.  Ashley is very much a part of my house, and I literally have thought of her every day since 2002.

I became a foster mother because of Ashley.  I participated in many fundraisers and small projects over the years but I wanted to do something more meaningful, so I got my foster license in 2010.  I have had it active off and on in both Kansas and Oregon over the years.  I am proud to be an active member of the foster parent community right now in the Kansas City area and my desire to do this work is in memory of Ashley.  

I believe that the impact Ashley had on me is also why I love being a life coach.  I get to help women and men understand their relationships and decide what to do after experiencing betrayal trauma and/or narcissistic abuse, or in other words, vulnerable adults.  I help them gain confidence, become their own best expert at making decisions that are right for them, and possibly my favorite part, teach them how to trust their gut again.

Late August 2002 the community had a big memorial for the girls at the local high school gym.  It was PACKED!  I felt like I finally “met” Miranda that day hearing all the stories that were shared by her family and friends.  It also felt good to gather with the rest of my “small town” and mourn together before I went back to college.

Now when I return to Oregon City to visit my parents who still live there, I like to walk over to the Mountain View Cemetery and visit the Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) memorial.  There are benches and a beautiful rock waterfall that runs as long as it’s not too cold.  I usually take one of my TY Ashley fish and place it on the memorial near her name.  There are names of many children who have been murdered in Oregon and Washington, and I like to read the names out loud.  I don’t want any of them to feel forgotten.  I’ll run my fingers over Ashley and Miranda’s names, and let them know that they are very much remembered.

A few years ago I inquired about buying the property at the top of the hill, the one that now sits vacant as the home has been demolished and nothing but trees and weeds remain.  My dream was to put a tiny house village on the property and rent them to youth who had aged out of the foster care system while they went to the local community college.  I would also put a beautiful garden there in remembrance of the girls.  The property had been vacant for more than 2 decades and I was sure I was the only human on the planet who would actually want it.  I was surprised to learn that a local non-profit, Love Inc., had recently bought it and was planning to run community programs there on the property, and I was glad that someone wanted to do something positive with the land.  I don’t believe anything has been built there yet.

If there is one thing I have learned about life over the years is that we can not control other people.  There are bad people who will do bad things, like this horrible person.  AND there are so many helpers!  There are so many wonderful, good souls who care.  I am so grateful to have been reunited with Ashley’s mom, Lori, recently through the wonders of social media.  And I’ll continue to visit the POMC memorial when I’m in town.  I’m so grateful for the beautiful children I have fostered, and my amazingly brave clients I get to coach.  I am forever changed, for the better, because Ashley was in my life.

If you are looking for a life coach to help you heal after betrayal, if you have experienced tragedy and need a guide, or looking for someone who can help you make decisions about your difficult relationship, I am here for you.  You can use THIS LINK to schedule your first life coaching session with me.  I would love to help you heal, the same way I’ve healed from all the betrayal and trauma in my life, and the way I help my clients heal every day too.

If you have any stories about Ashley Pond or Miranda Gaddis, I would love to hear them, and if I get a bunch I will compile them and create a part 2 to this blog sharing more of the girls’ stories.  I would love to give you a place to share those stories.  Please feel free to email me at:

If you happen to have TY Beanie Baby fish Goldie (or other plush fish) sitting around collecting dust and want to mail it to me, I would be honored to add it to my collection that I display and then take to the POMC memorial when I go.  You can mail them to Kendra Last, PO Box 93, Lawrence KS 66044

If you want to get involved with helping vulnerable children in your area I’d encourage you to do what feels right for you.  You can sign up to participate in the Big Brother/Big Sister program, donate new stuffed animals to your local first responders, you could become a foster parent, or help support a local foster parent by taking their family dinner, offering to help them with birthday gifts or school shoes for their foster kiddos, or anything else you are inspired to do would be an amazing way to get involved.  My mom doesn’t live close to me to help me ongoing like that (although she & my dad do fly into town to help with my house every year), but she helps out a local Oregon City foster mama in my hometown that I’m friends with by taking meals, offering to wash clothes and wrap Christmas gifts among other things.  No offer is too small.  I promise, if you are thinking that you are just one person and don’t have a ton or money or power or influence, you can still make a difference to one child near you.

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My name is Kendra Last

I’m a life coach and author of the book Journaling to Recovery: A Reference Guide to Healing from Betrayal Trauma. I have been working in the betrayal recovery world for almost a decade. I’ve been there, and I will help you let go of the pain of the past, help you recognize your own inner beauty and strength, and help you learn to celebrate yourself again.

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