On Feb. 26, 2015, 16-year-old Ash Haffner died after running in front of traffic just a block from home in Indian Trail.
Then a sophomore at Porter Ridge High School, Ash had been struggling with gender identity since the eighth grade. Before the suicide, Ash had begun to identify as male instead of female and talked about changing names – from Ashlyn Alexis to Ashton Alexander.
Ash’s mother, April Quick, was supportive, but she said it was a confusing time, made even more so because Ash was the subject of bullying by both youths and adults.
The mothers of two of Ash’s friends forbade their daughters to see Ash because they were was afraid their daughters would “turn gay” if they spent time with Ash, Quick said.
One of the mothers caused a scene in their front yard when Ash was in ninth grade, Quick said. The woman’s daughter had come to see Ash after getting into a fight with her mother, who had forbade her from seeing Ash. The two teens were in the yard when Quick said she heard a commotion. She came outside to find that the girl’s mother had driven up and was shouting from her SUV.
“The mom was being very, very heated,” Quick said. “The friend was crying, pleading with the mom not to be judging, not to keep them apart.”
Ash had begun changing in eighth grade. A picture from that year’s formal dance shows Ash with shoulder-length hair, wearing a turquoise dress for a date with a boy. But a few months later, Ash got her hair cut short and began to wear baggy pants and flannel shirts. Ash confided to Quick that she was a lesbian and had a girlfriend.
In ninth grade, Quick said, Ash asked to be referred to as a boy. “She was trying to figure out her identity,” Quick said. “She felt like a boy trapped in a girl’s body. She was caught somewhat in between.”
After the haircut, Quick said, the bullying got worse. More than once, Quick and Ash were walking in public when a group of snickering girls could be overheard asking, “Is that a girl or is that a boy?”
In 10th grade, the year she died, Quick said, Ash stopped changing clothes for gym class because other girls said they were uncomfortable being in the same locker room. By that time, Quick said Ash was often the subject of name-calling – “fag,” “faggot,” “disgusting.”
Quick blames the accumulation of hurts, not just one incident, for Ash’s death. She didn’t find a suicide note, but Quick later learned that Ash had sent text messages to several friends on the night of Feb. 25 indicating her plans. “I’m done. I’m ready to die,” Quick said, quoting the texts.
After a call from one of those friends, Quick frantically ran through the house and into the yard searching for Ash. When she noticed a commotion and headlights on the road, she ran and found Ash lying near the curb, struck by a Jeep. Ash died early the next morning, Feb. 26, at Carolinas Medical Center.
Quick found notes on Ash’s iPad about the teen’s confusion and conflicting feelings: “if I die ... I don’t want to be remembered as the faggot gay girl ... unfortunately thats who I am to alot of people ... i may have come from a broken family but i always had a roof over my head and a loving mother who fully accepted me for who i was and never stopped trying ... i don’t want to be remembered as the girl with problems, just remember me as someone who understood and stayed strong for as long as i could.”