Updated 11:28 p.m., Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Ashley Billasano kept the pain locked inside her for years, allowing only a handful of people closest to her to have a glimpse. On Monday, the 18-year-old Rosenberg high school student let it all out in a torrent of messages on Twitter – the sexual abuse that she said ruined what should have been some of the best years of her life, her inability to see justice done on her behalf. Then she killed herself.
Friends say the suffering and depressed Billasano decided to make her death count for something even as her life became unbearable. Her burst of 144 tweets, which took place over six hours and ended shortly before she took her life through suffocation, recounted the sexual abuse at the hands of a family member and other adults, and the frustration that arose when authorities failed to bring charges.
“This wasn’t random,” said Ashly Escamilla, her classmate and closest friend. “She planned this for a reason. She made a decision that this was what she was going to do to get attention if she was not going to get justice.”
Her closest friend
Billasano, known as Billy to her good friends, always had a sense of theater. It was why she and Escamilla would sometimes dress up as Batman and Robin for a late-night taco run. And it was why she was supposed to be in the upcoming musical production Hairspray put on by the drama classes at B.F. Terry High School.
Now Escamilla is without the friend she said was closer than a sister, the special and caring person she instantly befriended last year in what she later described as a magical moment. Billasano had moved to Rosenberg to live with her mother after the allegations of abuse became known to the family. In no time at all, the two girls were, in their words, like “peas and carrots.” Shortly before she died, Billasano gave the “other” Ashly two of her glow-in-the-dark stars to put on the ceiling of her room. The stars were to remind Escamilla of their friendship before she went to sleep at night.
“She wanted justice from the very beginning,” Escamilla said. “She said police and CPS acted like it was nothing. She said it was like they did not want to believe her. So, to go on living when someone hurt her, and no one ever did anything about it – wouldn’t that drive you insane? To feel ignored by people who were supposed to help you. That was crazy. She had support from me and my boyfriend and her mom, but she did not have justice. She needed to get her point across and to make it known that she was wronged.”
A spokesman for Texas Child Protective Services said privacy concerns keep the agency from commenting about whether an investigation followed Billasano’s allegations. The Williamson County District Attorney’s office, which reportedly had presented information to a grand jury, did not return a Chronicle phone call. Billasano was living in Round Rock at the time.
Billasano’s mother, Tiffany Ruiz Leskinen, said her daughter confided the story of abuse to a teacher, who notified the police department in Pflugerville, where her school was located. The investigation led nowhere, Leskinen said.
“The detective told her that she had trouble believing her,” her mother said. “Here is someone who has been abused and is forced to be silent for so long. Then the one person you go to looking for help says they might not believe you. The CPS caseworker was a rookie right out of college. She did not know anything and kept saying she had check with her supervisor.”
Leaving a record
Escamilla said she learned of Billasano’s pain not long after they became friends. When it became clear that no prosecutions would stem from her complaint that she had been abused by a family member beginning at age 14 and then by an assortment of men, she took a turn for the worse, her friend said.
“She suffered depression. Her moodswings would vary. She could be happy and in another moment she’d be sad. Finally, it all built up inside and her inner demons were too much to handle. She had to deal with all these negative feelings about herself,” Escamilla said.
The use of Twitter was no mere gimmick, she said, but a way to make a public statement, to leave a record. Billasano chose that vehicle instead of, say, Facebook because she knew friends would notice her Facebook posts and would suspect that something was amiss, Escamilla said, adding that few of their peers use Twitter.
Billasano was found lifeless on the floor of her bedroom. It was her second effort at suicide. The first came about a month ago, Escamilla said.
After that attempt, her friend was constantly by her side, even living with her for a week. But down inside, Escamilla and her boyfriend, Luke Bosworth, feared that something bad was bound to happen.
“She would always try and push it away from herself,” said Bosworth, who also was a close friend. “But she had nightmares. She wanted to keep it secret. When she told me it was a very emotional experience. We knew how much it was bothering her. She had gone to a psychologist a few times before, but it really wasn’t helping.”
Billasano’s tweets described the sexual abuse she endured and emotional toll that it took on her. In several consecutive messages she mentions how she locked herself in a bathroom following the first experience and hurt herself with a razor. In another, she recalled a phone call she received in which she was told there would be no indictments because of a lack of evidence.
“That’s when I changed,” she tweeted. “I didn’t care anymore. And the people I was meeting gave me no reason to.”
‘But I won’t be around’
Before signing off, Billasano addressed anyone paying attention to her messages.
“That’s the story of how I came to be who I am,” she wrote. “Well, the condensed version. I’d love to hear what you have to say. But I won’t be around.”
Suicide prevention specialists say that young people are especially prone to thoughts of killing themselves.
“There are over 100 attempts for every completed suicide in young people, especially young girls,” said Paula Clayton, medical director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “In the elderly, it’s only four for every suicide. When you are distressed, you are much more likely to be desperate and hopeless and out of control. And young people are much more impulsive.”