As part of Lifetime’s ripped-from-the-headlines summer lineup, Left for Dead: The Ashley Reeves Story explores a real case of trauma and resilience. According to the Illinois Daily Journal, 17-year-old Ashley Reeves disappeared on April 27, 2006 only to be found more than a day later in a park, clinging to life. She’d been choked, had her neck broken, and was barely breathing when authorities discovered her. Her attacker was a 26-year-old high school teacher named Samson Shelton. He’d met Reeves when she was in middle school, and the two eventually began a relationship. Per CBS, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2007 after pleading guilty to attempted first-degree murder.
According to CBS, Shelton claimed that Reeves sustained her injuries during a fight they had while he was trying to break up with her. He said that he tried to push her out of a moving car, and when her neck cracked, he carried her to the park “to make it look like she got strangled there.” In an interview with Elizabeth Smart for Crime Watch Daily, Reeves said that the fight happened after she’d tried to end things. She also said it was such a traumatic experience that she has no memory of the days before the attack nor the weeks after.
After Reeves was found, she had an uphill battle toward recovery. CBS reported that Reeves had to learn how to talk, swallow, and move her limbs again. In 2017, she visited the site of her rescue as part of the Crime Watch Daily episode. “It’s kinda hard to believe that this is actually where I was for that long and in that condition,” Reeves said. “[It] makes me feel like maybe I am as tough as everybody says I am. I’m a fighter and I just keep wanting to push myself harder and harder.”
Anwen O’Driscoll, who plays Reeves in the Lifetime film, told the Sioux City Journal that she reached out to Reeves while preparing for the role, but didn’t want to grill her about the experience. “I wouldn’t want to come at her with this super heavy subject matter,” O’Driscoll said. “It’s her story, and I feel like maybe she’s done talking about that and done having people come at her about it.”
With the exception of that 2017 interview with Smart, Reeves has understandably wanted to put the whole thing behind her. “I’m glad it’s over with,” she said after Shelton was sentenced in 2007. “I just want to continue with my life and not worry about it.” And that’s what she’s done. Per Crime Watch Daily, Reeves is now 32 and has two children. The end credits of the Lifetime movie say that she’s raising her family in Illinois while working as a caregiver.
According to Illinois inmate records, Shelton is still serving out his sentence at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Illinois. He’s up for parole on April 22, 2024. By then, he’ll be 44 and Reeves will be 35.