Directed by Gloria Ui Young Kim, Lifetime’s ‘Left for Dead’ profiles the tale of 17-year-old Ashley Reeves, who suddenly has to fight for her life and rights on multiple occasions in the span of a short time. Following a brutal attack that left her gravely wounded and paralyzed, when she’s abandoned in the woods to die, she spends roughly 30 horrific hours just laying in the dirt until help arrives. With no memories of what occurred, Ashley then has to delve deep into herself to bring her assailant to justice. So now, let’s find out if actual events inspired this extraordinary tale, shall we?
Is Left for Dead Based on a True Story?
Yes, Lifetime’s ‘Left for Dead: The Ashley Reeves Story’ is based on a true story. Back in April 2006, a high school junior from the village of Millstadt, Illinois, Ashley Reeves (played by Anwen O’Driscoll), appeared to have an almost idyllic life. With parents who loved her, a sister who supported her, friends who cared, and a boyfriend who did it all, Ashley seemed content. Yet, only a few knew that she was also romantically involved with an older man on the side. And unfortunately, the latter became the catalyst of it all.
On the 27th, the 17-year-old left her family home to go for a part-time job interview in a nearby city and then play basketball, promising her parents that she would return by her 10 pm curfew. However, not only was Ashley not back by 10:30, but she also wasn’t responding to calls or texts, which was very out of character. Thus, perceiving that something was awry, her mother, Michelle Reeves (played by Jennie Garth), immediately called the police to report her missing. It was first assumed that Ashley lost track of time, but things took a turn when cops located the car she was driving 15 minutes away from her home eight hours later.
Upon looking at her phone records, talking to friends, and a few probes, it came to light that her older boyfriend was her seventh-grade gym coach, Samson Shelton. In fact, Ashley often met her former teacher and played basketball with him in Belleville, near his residence, which was where her vehicle was discovered. The following morning, Samson was interrogated for about 12 hours before he described his relationship with Ashley, what they did the evening prior, their fight, and how he strangled her until he heard her neck pop and abandoned her. That’s when he revealed that she was in a park 12 minutes away from her home.
Throughout his questioning, Samson had changed his story several times, tried to victimize himself, and even went as far as to cry and claim that he was trying to do the right thing and breaking up with the teenage girl on that fateful night. His actions, though, proved that he was not innocent or remorseful. After all, he never apologized to Ashley, initially pleaded not guilty to the attempted murder charge against him, and allegedly also tried to gain empathy from the public by an apparent suicide attempt. His competency came into question as well, but he was deemed fit. Yet, most importantly, Ashley survived and recovered.
In the end, despite being injured and alone for 30 hours in the dirt and not being able to remember her attack, Ashely refused to let her assailant win by completely recovering, pursuing all her dreams, and ensuring that he is brought to justice. Inspired by her heart and spirit, Anwen O’Driscoll, who plays Ashley, became determined to portray her account on our television screens as accurately as possible while still having it dramatized. For this, she worked with therapists to learn all the aspects of Ashley’s ordeal and watched numerous videos of the case to stay consistent. “I was afraid to make it kind of like a caricature thing,” she said.
In fact, Anwen even corresponded with the real Ashley but didn’t push for too many details in fear of making her dig up painful memories. “I wouldn’t want to come at her with this super heavy subject matter,” she explained. “It’s her story, and I feel like maybe she’s done talking about that and done having people come at her about it. I just did a lot of ‘self’ stuff and tried to connect with her bravery and her heart and make that the focal point.” Evidently, the Lifetime venture brings a real, tragic yet heroic tale of survival to our screens.
Read Now: Where is Ashley Reeves Now?