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Events before girl's death investigated

Deputies are looking into why she had not been picked up for drug treatment as planned.

By RYAN DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 4, 2002


Sixteen-year-old runaway Joshan Marie Ashbrook was last seen Wednesday evening at Ridge Road and U.S. 19, about two miles from her New Port Richey home, Pasco County sheriff's detectives said.

A little more than 12 hours later, her body turned up along Shady Hills Road.

Investigators are trying to determine how the Schwettman Education Center student got from the busy Port Richey intersection to the woods aside the rural road.

"Somebody had to see her," said sheriff's Detective James Browning. "Somebody had to pick her up and give her a ride.

"There are still a lot of questions."

Joshan, who would have started her sophomore year this month, had friends at Checkers, the burger joint just north of Ridge Road on U.S. 19, Browning said. After running away early Wednesday morning, she visited friends in and around the restaurant.

Detectives are not releasing details about how she was killed.

"Everyone in (the) major crimes (investigations unit) is concentrating on finding who did this," Browning said. "She was a child."

While those detectives focus on her death, investigators in the sheriff's professional standards unit are investigating another aspect of the case.

On Monday, Joshan's mother, Tara Ramsdell, had petitioned the court to have Joshan committed to a treatment center under the state's Marchman Act. Her daughter had been running away, she wrote, and she suspected that Joshan was staying with older men, trading sex for drugs and likely getting involved in Internet pornography.

A judge granted her order and it was taken to the Sheriff's Office on Monday evening. A treatment center said it had room for her. And for 36 hours -- from Monday afternoon until early Wednesday morning -- Joshan remained at home.

But no one from the Sheriff's Office came to get her.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday, she ran away.

The internal investigation into why sheriff's deputies never came to pick up Joshan for the court-ordered treatment continues.

Ramsdell declined to comment Saturday about either of the Sheriff's Office's investigations, but she described another side of her daughter.

Joshan collected stuffed frogs, she said. She wrote songs and poetry, and she wanted to be an entertainment lawyer.

"There's not a person in the world that could hate her," Ramsdell said.

Her best friend was an 8-year-old neighbor, Sky, whom she taught to dance, Ramsdell said. Ramsdell and her husband, Robert, moved to New Port Richey in December from Dover in rural Hillsborough County, Robert said. They live in a single-story gray concrete block house owned by Port Richey City Councilwoman Pat Guttman and her husband, Murray.

"If you met (Joshan), once she smiled she was your friend," her stepfather said.

On Saturday, the family set up a small shrine to Joshan on the dining room table. It included stuffed frogs, pictures and a poem she wrote to her boyfriend, who was leaving for Kentucky. They don't know if she copied parts of the poem from elsewhere or created it all herself. She titled it Loneliness and wrote it out in silver, purple and blue ink on an index card.

When you get a case of loneliness; and you think that nobody's there; to love support or listen; or to show they even care. Just reach into your pocket; and pull out this lil' card; nothing could be easier; when life seems really hard. And every time you read it; it will help remind you, too; a very special part of me is always there with you.

-- Ryan Davis is the police reporter in Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6245 or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245. His e-mail address is rdavis@sptimes.com.

* * *

Joshan Ashbrook, 16, had recently dyed her hair auburn, detectives said. They ask that anyone with information about her disappearance or killing call Pasco County sheriff's Detective Scott Gattuso at (727) 844-7781 or toll-free at 1-800-854-2862, ext. 7781.

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