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When Doug and Ashley Benefield Started a Ballet Company, It Wasn’t Supposed to End in Death

However Ashley apparently nonetheless didn’t belief Doug. On Easter weekend of 2019, the entire household went out to dinner, and Ashley and her mom pulled Eva apart. “They requested if I felt protected dwelling with him, they informed me he killed my mom, they informed me my dad was going to kill Ashley and her mom,” Eva wrote in an announcement. “I attempted a number of occasions to diffuse the state of affairs by telling them my dad has been nothing however supportive.”

That summer season, Doug grew suspicious of Ashley. He typically had hassle reaching her. He secretly positioned a monitoring machine on her automobile and employed a non-public investigator, who informed him that Ashley was seeing another person. This time, the separation was his concept.

However his anger didn’t final. He nonetheless hoped that they might transfer in collectively and be a household once more. At the same time as Ashley continued to combat for full custody, Doug thanked his estranged spouse, over textual content, for being an “superb girl” and for giving start to their “treasured” child. He forgave her for the affair and begged her to withdraw her accusations; she, in the meantime, maintained that he had poisoned Renee and tried to poison her. In November 2019, the wedding counselor found that Doug had been secretly recording their periods, and terminated the couple’s remedy. (She continued to deal with Ashley alone.)

In Could final 12 months, two months into lockdown, Ashley appeared to have the change of coronary heart Doug had been ready for. She texted Doug and stated she wished to speak. “She’s trying to go to an actual trauma therapist collectively,” Doug informed his lawyer, Stephanie Murphy, over e mail. “Very conciliatory and owned her errors.” They began tentatively happening dates—to eating places, to the seaside. Ashley even instructed they transfer collectively to Maryland—the place Ashley had grown up, and the place Doug was beginning a brand new job—for a contemporary begin.

Murphy warned Doug that Ashley—whose poisoning allegations had come to naught in Florida—may need ulterior motives. “It has lengthy been my perception (sorry, I do know you don’t need to hear this) that Ashley could possibly be utilizing this alternative to discussion board shop, searching for a brand new jurisdiction and new choose to whom she will restart this story/case since she has not had any luck,” she wrote on August 31. “I’ve the identical concern,” Doug admitted. “I don’t belief her in any respect irrespective of how a lot I hope for her change.” However he rented a U-Haul anyway. “With honest coronary heart and love and excited to start subsequent stage of our shared journey,” he emailed Ashley on September 14.

On the night of Sunday, September 27, 2020, Ashley and Doug have been collectively at Ashley’s mom’s home in Florida, packing up her belongings. A custody listening to was scheduled for the thirtieth; they deliberate to attend by way of Zoom. A psychologist’s evaluations of Ashley and Doug have been set to be launched on the listening to. The experiences—which Doug would by no means hear—reveal their conflicting states of thoughts: Ashley had little interest in reconciling; Doug didn’t imagine in divorce.

On Monday morning, again in Charleston, Eva awoke, checked her telephone, and noticed no Bible verse, nothing. She despatched her dad a “good morning” textual content, however he didn’t reply. An hour handed, and she or he texted him once more. She began to panic. “Dad, the place are you,” she wrote. “Dad, you’re scaring me. Reply the telephone.” She drove to her sister-in-law’s and googled “Florida automobile accident Benefield.”

The night time earlier than, a neighbor of Ashley’s had referred to as 911. When the sheriff’s deputies arrived, they discovered Doug on the ground of Ashley’s bed room, bleeding from his leg, arm, and chest. They discovered a stray bullet on the ground and two extra lodged within the partitions. Ashley, who informed police that she might nonetheless hear ringing in her ears, maintains she acted in self-defense. The police, in line with the felony criticism, seen no accidents on Ashley aside from an “outdated and really minor” scratch. “Based mostly on the entry wounds on Douglas it doesn’t seem that he was going through Ashley when she started capturing,” the detective wrote. “It additionally doesn’t seem that Douglas had taken any form of defensive or combative stance.” Ashley’s hanging mugshot went viral.

Ashley has not returned any of my calls or emails for the reason that capturing. Neither have her mom or her lawyer; the prosecutor declined to remark. She is at the moment out on bond and dwelling in Florida, close to her mom and daughter, whereas she awaits trial: She has been charged with homicide within the second diploma—an unpremeditated killing. On her utility for a public defender, she stated that she had no money, no checking account, and no financial savings. She adheres to an 11 p.m. curfew and wears an ankle bracelet across the clock.

On October 17, 2020, Doug’s family and friends scattered his ashes within the water at Sullivan’s Island Seaside, only a few miles from the house he had as soon as shared with Ashley. Afterward, about 40 folks gathered at close by Dunleavy’s Pub, a pleasant Irish bar the place each patron is “buddy” to the weathered bartender and “child” to the waitress with frayed blonde hair. (“We don’t care about social distancing, any of that,” stated Tommie, who organized the memorial service.)

Final 12 months, Eva dropped out of the School of Charleston. Now 20, she works part-time at a espresso shop, sells work of landscapes on Etsy and posts Tik-Toks about evil stepmothers. One of her movies has been seen practically 23 million occasions. “I actually wanna discuss to Ashley,” Eva informed me. “I simply wanna ask her, ‘What was going by your head?’ I’ve thought of it each single day—the place did it go fallacious, why did that occur?”

As for the dancers, who appeared to be the unique victims, they’re nonetheless battling the fallout—monetary, skilled, emotional.

Hanna Manka spends her nights working as a server at a golf membership and her days alone within the studio, making an attempt to remain in form for one more season of auditions. At simply 29, Sara Murawski doesn’t really feel prepared to surrender her performing profession, nevertheless it took two years to obtain one other firm job, which then fell by resulting from COVID. At this time, she is educating part-time on the college the place she educated, and she or he’s struggling to make sense of her expertise in South Carolina. Doug and Ashley “have been two individuals who each appeared very beneficiant and delicate,” she stated. “This disillusionment has been very painful, complicated, and unhappy.”

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