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For Your Consideration: “Letters to Ashleigh”
South Milwaukee native and award-winning filmmaker Kyle Olson joins forces with the family of a slain local teenage girl to raise funds for a proposed anti-violence documentary.

If you just experienced a sense of déjà vu after glancing at the picture of the young woman this story is about, chances are you know the tragic way her story ended. And you likely coped with it the way most people deal with the seemingly endless deluge of news reports and coverage that detail violent and senseless acts of crime perpetrated in our community and elsewhere: You compartmentalized it away into the recesses of your mind. 

Out of sight, out of thought, almost out of mind.

Until now anyway.

In 2009, there were more than 13,752 murders here in the United States. One of those victims was 19-year-old Ashleigh Anne Love (the young woman in the aforementioned picture), a then-recent graduate of Milwaukee’s own Pius XI High School.

Born Sept. 17, 1990 in Milwaukee, Wis., Ashleigh was often referred to as “Ash” or “Ms. Love” by family and close friends. According to her mother, Tammy Love, anyone who knew her daughter knew that Ashleigh wasn’t all that much of a morning person, especially when it meant having to get up to go to school. However, Ashleigh had no problem getting up early if it was required for work -- she loved to work, an attribute not commonly ascribed to members of the teenage set.

Looking forward to attending college and everything else ahead, Ashleigh’s life was cruelly and unexpectedly cut short in the middle of the night on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009 when an intruder broke into the Love’s residence and fatally shot Ashleigh. The culprit has yet to be apprehended, and the ongoing investigation into her murder is now classified as a cold case. Ashleigh is survived by her parents, two brothers and additional family as well as friends.

Ashleigh’s friend Kyle Olson, a native of South Milwaukee who now lives in southern California and works in the entertainment industry primarily behind-the-scenes in television production (with such credits as the CW’s “America’s Next Top Model," FOX’s “Glee,” ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and the upcoming season of SYFY’s highest rated program, “Face Off”), has joined forces with her family to create a documentary with the working title "Letters to Ashleigh."

Olson says the goal of the film is to start a dialogue about the ripple effect senseless acts of violence often have within a community, and their mutual desire to bring hope and inspiration to other grieving families as well. “I never thought I'd be able to relate to a crime of this magnitude, but now I can," he says. “Ashleigh's murder impacted me personally in a number of ways. It changed my perspective on many things. As cliché as it sounds, it taught me to live life to the fullest and to never take anything for granted.

"I think cases like Ashleigh’s are often forgotten because people simply have lives to lead. A part of it is likely the ‘it doesn't affect me’ or ‘it can't happen to me’ philosophy.' Some people may think that the victims of these violent crimes 'had it coming' or did something wrong to deserve it. That is so far from the case. Hopefully this documentary will help open people's eyes to the fact that these crimes are plaguing innocent families.”

Like most independent film projects, the team behind “Letters to Ashleigh” are dependent on the generosity of others to make the film a reality. So far, roughly a third of the documentary’s proposed $3,500 production budget has been raised via the popular crowdfunding website, Indiegogo, with 18 days left to reach its funding goal. Recently, Channel 12 (WISN), Milwaukee’s ABC affiliate, ran a news report that featured Olson and Ashleigh’s mother, Tammy Love, discussing the project.

The bulk of the documentary will be filmed here in the Milwaukee area sometime this year, and that 100 percent of the funds raised through Indiegogo (minus Indiegogo’s nominal fees) will be put towards the documentary if they manage to raise at least $3,000 of the proposed $3,500 budget by 11:59 p.m. Sunday, May 19, the final day interested parties can contribute.

During the documentary, people from all walks of life will read letters (to Ashleigh). In the letters, people will have the chance to express their feelings and emotions about a variety of topics, such as the impact a loved one’s senseless death can have and how it’s possible to regain some peace of mind.

Olson says he has no political agenda (like gun control) in mind, and that while Ashleigh is the “vehicle” for the project, he and the family feel that she is a universal symbol for all loved ones who have been lost to senseless acts of violence. “It is imperative that this film is made because, in my opinion, it's more than just a movie  it's a call to action.”

“Letters to Ashleigh” is a project Olson has longed to make. In part, to keep his friend’s memory alive, and because he thinks it’s the responsible thing to do given his chosen career.

“It is our job as entertainers and storytellers to inform people about compelling stories that people may have never heard about. In regards to Ashleigh's story, I know some people may remember hearing bits and pieces about it on the news, but like any other murder or crime story, it quickly faded away into memory. So many times, we watch the news and hear about tragic things and events. Very rarely though do we see any follow up. Days, weeks, months and even years go by, and these stories are pretty much forgotten.

“This movie is an opportunity to expand upon those types of stories you see on the news  to put a face, a name, a family, and real emotion behind it. ‘What if this was your child?’ ‘What if this was your life?’ It’s our hope and intent that “Letters to Ashleigh” will help people to understand what happens after the reporting stops and the victim’s families try to pick up the pieces. We want to keep those stories alive, and to give people dealing with circumstances similar to those faced by the Love family some hope because as Ashleigh’s mom has said, ‘Without hope, there’s nothing.’”

For additional information on “Letters to Ashleigh,” go here.

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