By JIM SUHR
The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 10:49 PM
ST. LOUIS -- Ashley Reeves had been lying in the woods for more than 30 hours by the time searchers spotted her through the driving rain. The 17-year-old was covered with insect bites, her neck was broken, and investigators were sure she was dead _ until she took a breath. A day earlier, authorities now believe, a high school teacher tried to kill her.
"It was almost disbelief that she was still alive," investigator Steve Johnson of the St. Clair County, Ill., Sheriff's Department, recalled Tuesday.
They had to clear brush and trees to get a stretcher to the girl, then rushed her to Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis, where she was in serious condition Tuesday.
Johnson is now helping to build a case against the 26-year-old teacher and wannabe pro-wrestler, Samson Shelton, who is jailed on $1 million bond and charged with kidnapping and attempted murder.
Authorities have said Ashley and Shelton had a "relationship," though Johnson wouldn't elaborate or say how the girl, who attended a different school, knew the older man.
The investigator would only describe Shelton as a known acquaintance of Ashley and say that Shelton was with investigators early Saturday when they finally found her in a desolate area of Citizens Park in the St. Louis suburb of Belleville, Ill. She had been missing since leaving her home Thursday afternoon for a job interview; the Jeep she was driving was found eight hours later in another park in the area.
Shelton was a driver's ed teacher by day in tiny Freeburg, Ill., and a pro wrestler and country line dancer by night, authorities said.
No phone listing could be found for him in Smithton, Ill., listed as his home. He has declined a public defender and indicated he would hire his own attorney, though there was none of record as of Tuesday, a St. Clair County Circuit Court clerk said. His arraignment could come later this week, authorities said.
Ashley's family has declined to comment. No further information about her chances for recovery has been released.
Johnson said he hopes the details of what happened to the girl surface more quickly than the long and frustrating search to find her.
Teams with dogs and in helicopters had searched for hours but couldn't locate the girl, and even before Johnson and other searchers entered Citizen's Park with Shelton in tow, Johnson said, "we all believed she was deceased."
When they finally spotted her in the dark, they thought they had a body _ until Johnson saw the blonde, blue-eyed girl breathe.
"I wouldn't use the word conscious, and I wouldn't use the word awake," he said. "Her eyes would respond to flashlights, and literally that was about it."
Crews spent roughly half an hour using chain saws to clear the way for emergency workers to finally get a stretcher to the teenager.
Johnson, the father of two daughters, still gets upset when he talks about the case.
"It's critical to get the message out (to parents to know) about who their loved ones associate with and where they're at," he said.