DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — The brutal murder of a young pregnant woman is shocking enough, but the news hit a local homeless shelter especially hard. That's because the people there had tried to save her from a life on the streets.
DeKalb police say Ashley Mays died in a DeKalb hotel last November after advertising on Backpage.com.
"We try so hard with these kids and we try to help them," Covenant House Georgia's Executive Director Allison Ashe told Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne about the news of May's murder. "I mean, it broke my heart."
The murder has deeply affected the staff and youth at the homeless shelter, where Mays twice checked herself in for help.
Ashe described her as, "a beautiful young woman full of light and love. She was incredibly outgoing, incredibly charismatic."
But the young mother, pregnant with child number two, struggling to make a way, and was lured back to the street.
An indictment charges Terique Hall with Mays' murder and more.
"It broke my heart."
A courthouse contact says Mays had fallen into prostitution. It's still under investigation whether Hall contacted her through her Backpage.com ad to buy sex in order to attack Mays, but we're told allegations surfaced in court that Hall also arranged to buy sex from two other women he attacked in DeKalb. Those women survived.
Hall’s lawyer says Hall plead not guilty to all counts.
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DeKalb police vice commander Curtis Williams says the victimization he sees, in a variety of ways of young people and the community, is a big part of why his investigators do what Winne watched them do in three days of undercover operations.
"I did something wrong. I was nervous about it because I've never done it," a man who answered a Backpage.com classified told Winne after he was caught in an undercover sting.
Winne asked another man, "Did you think you were hiring a prostitute?"
"No," the man said.
Eight men were caught up in the police sting. They were all professionals, including an accountant, an insurance agent and a retired fire marshall. Police arrested eight women as well.
The story of Ashley Mays’ murder is a sad punctuation to a new report by Covenant House Georgia and Loyola University New Orleans.
A summary indicates that of 64 youth interviewed in Atlanta, 14 percent had been trafficked for sex and 38 percent of LGBTQ youth interviewed were trafficked for sex.
"I'm a person, a human who has feelings and not just a sex object."
Winne talked with Covenant House resident Je’Brial Lee.
"When you were 14 and 15, you were performing sexual acts for money with these older men?" Winne asked. "Yes," Lee replied. "On a fairly frequent basis?" "Yes."
Lee told Winne counseling helps work through what happened.
"I'm a person, a human who has feelings and not just a sex object,” Lee said.
Another young woman told Winne she never saw any money for the countless sex acts her so-called boyfriend from high school arranged. She can't even say for sure if she got paid.
"There was multiple times when police could have caught me," she told Winne.
Covenant House Georgia's executive director sums it up this way: "We can't let this happen to another person like Ashley."
Winne was on the board of Covenant House when Ashley Mays was there.
Shortly after her murder, her family told Channel 2’s Nefertiti Jaquez, "I am saddened by her tragic death, but our faith will always be in the Lord."