Ashley, a 13-year old who recently delivered a baby after she was unable to travel out of state for an abortion, in Clarksdale, Miss., on Aug. 1, 2023. Credit - Lucy Garrett for TIME
Police in Clarksdale, Miss., have arrested a suspect in the alleged rape of Ashley, a 13-year-old who recently delivered a baby after she was unable to travel out of state for an abortion.
Ashley's mother, Regina, told TIME in a text message Sept. 5 that police informed her a suspect had been arrested in the case. (Ashley and Regina are pseudonyms to protect the privacy of a juvenile rape survivor.) The Clarksdale police department sent TIME a press release stating that a 16-year-old male had been arrested and charged with rape on Sept. 5, and a spokesperson subsequently confirmed that the arrest was tied to Ashley's case.
Regina told TIME that police said the suspect had been identified using DNA evidence. She also said the suspect was the same person she had flagged to the detective in charge of the case in February, after a family member located him on social media and Ashley identified him as the alleged rapist. "We have found the boy," Regina texted the detective on Feb. 11, attaching a social-media photo showing the alleged suspect on their street, with a neighbor's house visible in the background, according to screenshots TIME viewed.
When the DNA results came back on August 30, Regina says, police told her that the results matched Ashley's identification. Clarksdale police have repeatedly declined to comment on the specifics of the case to TIME, and would not confirm whether the arrested suspect is the same person the family originally identified to police.
The police press release does not name the suspect; the department does not release names of juvenile defendants. It states the suspect will appear before a judge in Coahoma County Circuit Court, but does not say when. Reached for comment, the Circuit Court asked TIME to contact the Clarksdale police. The District Attorney was not available for comment. It was not immediately clear whether the suspect had obtained a lawyer.
Ashley discovered she was pregnant in January, according to Ashley's doctor and Regina. It was then that Ashley told her mother that she had been raped by a stranger outside her home in Oct. 2022, shortly before her 13th birthday.
Ashley had told Regina that she had never met her rapist, and that he was an adult, Regina says. "I asked her, ‘Was he a grown-up?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, he looked like a grownup in his face,'" Regina recalls. Ashley described him to her mother as "tall, and his face looked grown," Regina says. Ashley also told Regina that her the alleged attacker was driving a car. In Mississippi, drivers as young as 15 can get a learner’s permit.
More From TIME
After filing the police report in January, Regina says she was told police needed DNA evidence to advance the investigation, and could not obtain that evidence until Ashley's baby was born. Ashley's son Peanut—TIME is using a nickname to preserve the family's privacy—was born on July 30. Clarksdale police did not pick up a DNA sample from the hospital until three days after Peanut was born, and only after repeated requests from TIME.
On Aug. 30, Ashley was summoned to the police department for questioning, this time by former Clarksdale Police Chief Sandra Johnson, who told the family she was working as a consultant on the case.
"The lady said, ‘I’m gonna ask you this one question and this question is going to hit,'" says Regina, who was present. "She said, ‘Did you know the person who did it?' Ashley said no," Regina recalls. "She was trying to make sure Ashley wasn’t lying about them messing around." (Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.)
Ashley has been a mother for about a month now. Regina stayed home to help her for about two weeks, but now she's back at work. Ashley says the hardest part of motherhood so far is "being up at nighttime," because the baby "eats a lot." Regina says the family has been struggling to explain the new baby's arrival, encountering whispers from the neighbors and gossip from relatives. Ashley is planning to start seventh grade in October; a relative will watch Peanut while she is at school.
After TIME published Ashley's story, Regina started a GoFundMe that has raised nearly $70,000 from donors to help the family raise Peanut, relocate closer to family, and give Ashley a fresh start.
Write to Charlotte Alter at firstname.lastname@example.org.