Brandy Johnson Billie, holds one of her daughter Ashanti's favorite teddy bears, in her apartment in Oxon Hill, Md. Ashanti, a 19-year-old college student, disappeared after entering a military base for work. She was later found dead and authorities have released few details of the case. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

The office in Brandy Johnson Billie's Maryland apartment has become a makeshift shrine to her daughter. There's a pair of ripped jeans Johnson Billie hated, but her daughter loved. There are some of the teenager's hand-drawn anime.

And there's the chef's outfit that 19-year-old Ashanti Billie purchased for culinary class at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach, but never had a chance to wear.

It has been more than a month since Billie, who had moved to the Virginia Beach area to attend school, went missing as she headed to work on a military base. Her body was eventually found in North Carolina — some 300 miles away.

Investigators have released few details about the case, not saying where they believe Billie encountered her attacker or how she was killed. They also have not said whether they identified any suspects.

"I'm still not sleeping," Johnson Billie said. "I need them to locate who did this . . . closure comes from knowing it's justice for Ashanti and that monster or monsters, they can't harm anyone else like they harmed my baby."


Brandy Johnson Billie, left, with her daughter Ashanti Billie, in an undated family photograph. (N/A/Family photo)

In the absence of answers, Johnson Billie and her ex-husband Meltony Billie have been doing everything they can to help, first in the search for their daughter and now in the investigation into her death.

They've appeared on television, met with U.S. Rep. Scott W. Taylor, a Republican from Virginia Beach and pushed out information on social media about other missing person cases in the hopes they can save another family from going through the same pain.

FBI Norfolk spokeswoman Christina Pullen said the case remains a "high priority." The FBI and Blimpie, a sandwich restaurant where Ashanti Billie worked, have combined to offer a $20,000 reward for information that helps solve the case.

"We're pursuing all leads, looking at all information we have and getting as much information as we possibly can," Pullen said. "It's a very methodical process, it takes time and we want to make sure we get it right."

A funeral program Johnson Billie keeps on her desk describes her daughter's life "journey."

Both of Ashanti Billie's parents served in the army and moved around a lot, so she lived in Texas, Germany, Alabama, New York and Maryland, where she graduated from Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School in Upper Marlboro. Though her parents are divorced, they remained friends to ensure that Billie felt comfortable staying at either of their houses. She was her mother's only child, but had six other half siblings and a longtime boyfriend.

Not long before her disappearance, Billie had moved to Virginia to study culinary arts. She dreamed of one day opening her own bakery.

Billie got a job at a Blimpie shop on the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek in Norfolk, and entered the base just before 5 a.m. on Sept. 18 to report for work, authorities said. Soon after, her car was seen leaving the base but it wasn't clear who was in it.

Ashanti Billie never showed up to work that day and missed her scheduled college classes, police have said. Later that day, her cellphone was found in a dumpster, and that weekend, authorities located her car in Norfolk. Billie's body was found on Sept. 29 near a church in Charlotte.

Johnson Billie and Meltony Billie stayed at a hotel in Virginia Beach during the search for their daughter. Once officials identified her body, Johnson Billie said she wanted to fly directly to Charlotte.

"We wanted to get to our baby," Johnson Billie said. "We weren't able to get there. They didn't want us to have to see her in that condition she was found in due to deterioration in being outside in the elements and things like that."

Her parents still don't know what exactly happened to Billie. Although they have asked investigators questions, it's what the officials don't say that pushes the parents' minds to wander.

"I need to know was she abused?" Meltony Billie recalled asking investigators. " 'Well, Mr. Billie, we don't have all that,' " he said they responded.

Both parents served in the army with multiple deployments. They said they believe their daughter was probably abducted on the base, and they hope the security measures will lead authorities to possible suspects.

To enter a base, people have to show a valid identification card, which is often scanned upon entry, to the armed security personnel, said Beth Baker, a Navy spokeswoman, who spoke in general about naval bases. Baker referred questions about Ashanti Billie's case to the FBI, citing the "open and ongoing investigation."

When Johnson Billie finally returned to Maryland, she couldn't stand to be in her apartment — the same one she lived in with her daughter. Within a week she moved into a new unit with a different layout.

"To pack all of your child's stuff up . . . that she's not going to be there, I can't even explain it, it just doesn't feel right," Johnson Billie said.


Brandy Johnson Billie and ex-husband Meltony Billie lost their daughter, Ashanti, a 19-year-old college student, after she disappeared going to work. She was later found dead. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

Rainbow-colored roses, a favorite of Ashanti Billie, were saved from her funeral, and hang in her mother's apartment in Oxon Hill, Md. (Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post)

The family had a public and large funeral, which Johnson Billie called Ashanti Billie's "homegoing celebration." Her daughter had previously shared her dreams about wedding colors: rainbow roses and a mint green pop of color with her white wedding dress. So Johnson Billie made sure she had rainbow roses and a mint green program for the funeral. Ashanti Billie was buried in the pale green prom dress she designed herself.

"I just kept thinking that it can't be her up there, it can't be her," Johnson Billie said of the funeral. "I'll never have grandkids, I'll never be able to be the mother at the wedding. For me, that's gone."

For now, the parents' days are filled with preparing to launch a foundation in their daughter's name. It will help fund a scholarship fund for a student to attend the culinary program at the Art Institute of Virginia Beach and be a resource for those seeking assistance to find a missing person.

"You wake up and you sometimes, you try to make sense of it," Meltony Billie said. "Some days I'll wake up and I'll look at the news expecting to hear something."

Reminders of their loss are constant. On a recent day, Johnson Billie opened up her online shopping cart and found a pair of headphones, a charger and a jar of bubble tea ingredients — all things Ashanti Billie must have added.

"In my mind I keep telling myself she's away at school," Johnson Billie said. "The other part of my brain is like 'no she's not coming home.' "