She was the first student to ask me a math question.
I was being introduced briefly to my first classroom, in a remote reservation school. The semester was already underway, but I wouldn’t begin teaching until the following Monday (for reasons). But she asked if she could raise a quick math question while I was there.
I jokingly said “no”. She grinned and asked anyway.
Her name was Ashley, and we spent most of her sophomore and junior years tugging against each other’s wills like a pair of mules. She wore her heart on her sleeve. Neither her past nor her present were easy, and it’s tough as a teenager to hide the storms inside, so she was often decidedly outside a math mood when she walked into my class. Kneeling down by her desk and willing her through assignments was a common thing (though she was fully capable).
I’d do it all over again. Because with a few students, no matter how stubborn the will, you still have a grin for each other at the end of the day. She was one of them for me.
During my final year at that school, Ashley transferred away. I saw her only a couple of times that year when she’d come back for a visit. Unexpectedly, I saw her again years later, two hours’ distance away, when I delivered pizza to the hotel at which she and some family were staying. She recognized my voice and came running – a delightful little reunion.
Then, some time later, I heard she had disappeared.
She’d been at a party in her hometown and then – didn’t come home. Scarce leads, no immediately apparent motive.
It was then that I learned how much less attention missing persons cases tend to receive on reservations than off, especially with younger women. In an environment where local law enforcement is stretched to the limit and evidence was mishandled, Ashley slipped through the cracks. Her family even ended up testifying before Congress on how difficult it can be to marshal up effective resources to help these cases.
A year and a half later, Ashley is still missing.
This sort of thing wrenches my heart out. There isn’t a single former student whose future I don’t wonder over and worry about, so when it’s something like a disappearance…well. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since, hoping against hope even after all this time.
I wonder if you might say a prayer for Ashley today, and for her family. Though I lack the pay grade to explain why God allows these things to happen, I know he is powerful and loaded with resources. These is nothing he cannot do, and nobody he cannot find.