I have written so many ‘In Memoriam’ blog posts over the years, that I’ve asked a graphic design friend to create a suitable image I can use in lieu of generic images. Then I burst into tears because that feels so terrible, even though it feels equally necessary.
This came to mind last week when I read about the murder of 27 year-old Ashley Ugolotti of Monongahela, PA. Ashley was stabbed to death by an acquaintance of hers, Nguyen Tran also known as David Tran. Tran then hanged himself in the basement of his apartment.
A lot of terrible things unfolded in the wake of this murder. Tran was portrayed in the media as a misguided young man who was struggling with addiction and hanged himself as a sign of his remorse.
Ashley, the woman stabbed multiple times to death in his mother’s basement for some unknown reason, is remembered for her criminal and sexual history. Big shocker. The man who killed her is the sympathetic character in the narrative and selective moments from Ashley’s past trumps her role as the victim of a violent crime.
Yes, Ashley was facing serious charges related to drug distribution and sex work at a local ‘gentlemen’s club’ after she was caught up in a sting by undercover police officers. No word on whether any male customers of the club were similarly charged. Ahem. But then there never is, right?
It is a salacious story that the media probably couldn’t wait to spew into a headline like this:
Pa. stripper stabbed to death by salon nail tech who hangs himself (pennlive.com)
Other coverage at least didn’t put the details in the headline, but it is infuriating that the media continues to fuel our ‘she had it coming to her’ mentality with this garbage.
Ashley was loved by a lot of people. Many of them went to the media to offer a more nuanced perspective on her life and death. Several said she went to Tran’s home to get her nails done which is a real thing that people do. It is possible that Ashley went to get her nails done and was killed because of Trans’ issues. It is also true that Ashley did not deserve to be killed for any reason, regardless of her occupation and history with drugs. And while there certainly might be more to the story, there might not – women who make a living from sex work and use drugs also do typical things like getting manicures and grocery shopping and so forth. There are lots of possibilities to consider, but because they are both dead – there’s not going to be any real closure.
And, as always, we use our bifurcated lens to distinguish victims and perpetrators based on gender. In this case, male patrons of strip clubs who pay for sex (or drugs) and men who follow-up a murder with an act perceived as regret get a pass and women, well, they obviously were asking for trouble by holding a job and getting a manicure. And men who we perceive to express remorse should be pitied and/or given the benefit of the doubt.
It is horrible to have to keep writing blog posts about young women who have lost their lives to violent deaths in this region. It is also horrible to have to keep reminding people that none of these women murdered themselves, that where they were standing or whom they were dating or how they were employed doesn’t mitigate the fact that someone killed them. It is horrible that we don’t remember their names – Ashley Ugolotti, Kala Thomas, Mia White and Nicole Dailey. Do you think about them?
Ashley’s friends have established a GoFundMe to assist her family with her final expenses. One way to ensure that there is some justice and closure is to contribute to this effort to honor Ashley’s life.
Her friend Megan Donolo wrote:
Ashley was a loving daughter, friend and cousin. She was brutally murder August 31st obviously very unexpected. She was the sweetest girl anyone could ever encounter. She lite up every room she walked into with her contagious smile, her laugh that made others laugh and her hugs she was so good at giving. She would give the shirt off her back to anyone. She was very trusting and left a lot of people behind, who she touched along the 27 years that she lived to the fullest. I’m asking everyone to please donate any amount you can to her family every bit counts thank you.
Rest in power, Ashley. The people I spoke with who knew you spoke of you with love and affection. You touched many lives and your own life was extinguished much too soon. Please know that you will be remembered and honored by the lives of your friends and family.