Belleville, IL

Left for Dead by Her Teacher: Ashley Reeves, a Survival Story

Left for Dead by her Teacher: Ashley Reeves, a Survival StoryPhoto byNikki Young/Canva

This is the survival story of Ashley Reeves, a 17-year-old young woman who was savagely attacked by a teacher. He would leave her behind in a remote wooded area to die alone, hoping no one would find her at least for a while. His violence was chilling and his behaviour after the fact was even more shocking.

Who Is Ashley Reeves

In April of 2006, Ashley Reeves was your typical 17-year-old high school student living in Belleville, Illinois, with her younger sister and her parents. Ashley was a junior at Columbia High School and she had many friends as well as a boyfriend named Jeremy who she had been dating for almost two years. Her parents approved of them dating and really liked Jeremy. They said he was wholesome, forthright, and appeared to really care about their daughter. Ashley was said to be an excellent student and was described by friends as funny and bright.

While Ashley had an open relationship with her parents, she was keeping a secret from almost everyone she knew, especially from her parents and her boyfriend Jeremy. Only her closest friends knew that she was meeting up to hang out with one of the teachers at her old middle school. He had been grooming her for some time, and Ashley believed they were in a secret romantic relationship. The teacher’s name was Samson Shelton, and while Ashley wasn’t in any of his classes, he was very well-liked amongst his colleagues and other students, teaching driver’s ed and physical education. Besides teaching, Samson was an aspiring professional wrestler calling himself “The Teacher”.

It’s unclear exactly how this inappropriate relationship began or how Samson began to groom Ashley, but a couple of Ashley’s closest friends did know that the two would often meet up outside of school to hang out at the park and play basketball. But of course, we would later find out that they weren’t only playing basketball — Samson was taking advantage of the teenager and the two were being intimate.

The Day of the Attack

On April 27, 2006, Ashley told her parents that she had a job interview in Fairview Heights, which was about 15 miles away from her home, then she was going to play basketball with a friend. She asked her boyfriend Jeremy if she could borrow his SUV for the day and he agreed. No one suspected anything was wrong, until later that evening when Ashley still had not returned home. Her family, including her parents and her sister, began calling and texting her to see where she was, but she wasn’t answering.

They called Ashley’s boyfriend Jeremy and her friends and none of them had heard from Ashley either. This was completely out of character for Ashley — she may have ignored her parent's calls and texts but she definitely would not have ignored Jeremy or her friends.
Ashley ReevesPhoto byFacebook

They called the police to report that Ashley appeared to be missing and what happened next is kind of a miracle. When a teenager hasn’t come home for the evening, usually it’s nothing serious — they’ve just lost track of time, their phone has died or they simply don’t want to come home yet. Because of this, police can be reluctant to start investigating right away. They usually like to wait at least a day before they really start looking, so that they don’t unnecessarily tie up resources that might be needed elsewhere. But something about the panic in Ashley’s mother’s voice told them that this was serious, that Ashley wasn’t just another teen pushing the limits.

Police began looking for the vehicle that Ashley was last seen driving, Jeremy’s SUV. They put out an alert for patrols to keep an eye out for it. They found it abandoned at Laderman Park in Belleville, which isn’t too far from Ashley’s home. Inside the vehicle, they found an outfit that she had packed for the job interview, as well as basketball clothing. Unfortunately, Ashley was nowhere to be found. Now Ashley’s parents were really concerned and the following day police decide to question her friends and her boyfriend to see what else they might know.

Where Was Ashley?

Jeremy tells the police that he was actually out of town yesterday when Ashley went missing. He says he lent her his SUV as he had done in the past and she said she was taking it to go to an interview and to play basketball. Police confirm that his story checks out, he was out of town and likely didn’t have a clue where Ashley was. When police interviewed another one of her friends, the friend confirms that Ashley would frequently go play basketball with a teacher from school, Samson Shelton. Ding ding. Red flag. Why on earth would a teacher meet a student outside of school hours, far away from the school property, to play basketball? It didn’t make sense, and so police knew they had to track Samson down.

Meanwhile, Ashley’s parents were doing their own investigating. They pulled her cell phone records and went down the list, calling the phone numbers that she had recently been in contact with . Her parents were determined to find out where their daughter was and they weren’t waiting on the police. When looking at the list of numbers, they saw one that appeared over and over again and they didn’t recognize it as anyone they knew, so they dialled it. On the other end of the line was none other than teacher and coach, Sam Shelton. They asked him if he had seen or heard from Ashley, and he said no and hung up on them.

At this point, they had no idea why a teacher would be calling their teenage daughter so often, so they brought this information to the police. As soon as police learned of this inappropriate contact prior to Ashley’s disappearance, Samson became their biggest lead as to where she might be.

Who is Samson Shelton?

Samson Shelton, also known as Sam, was 26 years old. He had worked as a gym teacher and coach at Ashley’s previous middle school. They would have been at the same school together when Ashley was in 7th grade, but they reconnected in February 2006 when Ashley was a junior in high school. This would be just two months before Ashley would go missing. He was a really popular teacher, his students loved him and he was a valued member of the community. He was physically active and played on a variety of sports teams, including a fast-pitch softball league. Outwardly, he seemed like a really polite friendly, outgoing, great guy. He was often seen doing chores for his mother and grandmother and maintaining the lawn and property. Inwardly, things were very different.

Sam lived near the middle school in the upscale Wildwood Lake Estates neighbourhood with his mother and grandmother, and he was very close to both of them. One has to wonder if maybe this somehow is related to or contributed to his inability to form healthy relationships with adult women his own age.

Police brought Samson in for an interview and when they asked him his whereabouts the last couple of days, he said he went through his typical routine. He taught his middle school class on both Thursday and Friday during the day. He went out to a bar Friday night to do some line dancing. He hadn’t seen or heard from Ashley at all during that time and he had no idea where she might be or what may have happened to her. He also denies ever having an inappropriate relationship with Ashley, saying that the two were just friends — he used to teach her in middle school, and they stayed in touch, nothing more.

But the police weren’t buying anything he was telling them. They decided to leave him alone in the interrogation room for a bit, to give him some time to think and sweat. When they return, it appears to have worked because Sam is ready to talk. Especially when the police bring up his grandmother.

To summarize what was said in the interview, Samson says that he met up with Ashley to try and break it off with her. They were sitting in his car talking, and he ended things, according to him. She would not get out of his car, so he unclicked her seatbelt and tried to forcefully drag her out of the vehicle. Because of how small Ashley is and how much bigger than he was, he accidentally hurt her. While trying to get her out of the car, he said he heard a loud snap and thought that he may have broken her neck. Ashley went limp in his arms and he panicked, so he removed her from the car and dragged her body into the woods. He decided he needed to strangle her, to try and make it look like someone had attacked her in the woods. He used a belt until she went quiet, confirming she had passed.

When the police asked him why he didn’t just call an ambulance or take her to the hospital instead of dragging her out into the woods and strangling her, he says that he didn’t want to be blamed for her death and he feared losing his job.

The next day, after doing something so horrific, he taught a class at a middle school, and according to the students and staff who saw him that day, he seemed completely normal. No stress, not upset, not worried. He continued to joke around with students as he usually did, and then after school, he decided to hit up a local bar and go line dancing. Clearly not a care in the world, while Ashley’s body lay out in the woods as her parents frantically searched for her.

A Miracle Rescue

Almost 30 hours after Ashley was reported missing by her parents, Samson Shelton told police that he was ready to take them to her body in Citizens Park. It took Samson a bit to get his bearings right, it was now pouring rain and dark so things looked a little bit different. Police began searching around the cold damp forested park floor, until finally, they found her, lying there soaking wet, absolutely covered in insects. They had found her broken body after she had laid there outside in the elements for 30 hours. Police were mentally preparing for the worst, for needing to tell her parents the tragic news, when one of them noticed that by some absolute miracle, she was breathing. Somehow, she was still alive, after all, she had gone through.

The paramedics rushed to get her to the hospital, though the prognosis did not look good. She had been repeatedly strangled, her throat was crushed, and then she was left there in the elements for 30 hours, completely paralyzed and barely breathing.

Back at the police station, Samson wasn’t worried about Ashley or her family. He was worried about whether or not he would be able to take out his contact lenses or have access to contact solution. He also questioned whether he’d have a private toilet in prison because he was a shy urinator and if he couldn’t pee he’d be miserable. That’s the kind of individual we’re talking about here. No regard for anyone but himself, as Ashley held on for dear life.

But this story is a survival story — and Ashley Reeves is a survivor. She fought to live, not without massive struggle, but her family surrounded her and cheered her on as she took baby steps toward progress.

Samson was charged with Ashley’s attempted murder, but for some reason was able to make bond while awaiting trial. While out on bond, Samson attempted to take his life by overdosing on antidepressants. He wrote on his chest with a marker, something to the effect of “Do not save me”.

His mother found him and called 911. When police and medics arrived, Samson once again showed his true colours and became violent and aggressive with those who tried to help him. He spit on a police officer and kicked a nurse. He survived the suicide attempt and he would be tried for those assault charges later, though he would be found not guilty. According to his defence team, he was not responsible for his actions because of the effects of the drugs he took.

It doesn’t matter though, Samson Shelton was convicted of the attempted murder of Ashley Reeves and sentenced to serve 20 years in prison. He pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal, which his family said he only took so that people would stop demonizing him. To this day he has never apologized to Ashley Reeves for his actions.

Shelton is expected to be out on parole on April 22, 2024. By then he’ll be 44 and Ashley will be 35.
Sam SheltonPhoto byNBCNews

Where is Ashley Now?

Ashley Reeves went on to fight for her life back. First, she fought just to survive, and then she fought to be able to speak again, and then when she was bound to a wheelchair, she fought to be able to walk again. To this day she doesn’t remember the days preceding the attack, she doesn’t remember anything about the attack itself, or the days after she was found. It’s a miracle that Ashley has come so far in her recovery when she was truly left for dead.

Today Ashley is now 34 years old, married and has two children. She’s raising her family in Illinois while working as a caregiver. And I’ll end this with a quote from Ashley herself:

“Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up on yourself. There’s bigger, better things out there. I’ve gone through plenty of hardships, and it’s just, just keep fighting. Every day it’s a struggle, but you just gotta keep on trudging.” | Source:


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