ST. LOUIS – Police believe a high school teacher who moonlights as a pro wrestler attacked a 17-year-old girl and then left her in the woods with a broken neck for than 30 hours before accompanying investigators back to where she lay.
Searchers who spotted Ashley Reeves through driving rain were sure she was dead — until they saw her take a breath. Authorities believe 26-year-old Samson Shelton, a teacher at a different school, tried to kill her a day earlier.
"It was almost disbelief that she was still alive," investigator Steve Johnson of the St. Clair County, Ill., Sheriff's Department, recalled Tuesday.
Reeves was in serious condition Tuesday. Shelton, a wannabe pro wrestler and driver's education teacher in tiny Freeburg, Ill., is jailed on $1 million bond and charged with kidnapping and attempted murder.
Police said they were still investigating why the muscular, 6-foot-1, 200-pound teacher tried to strangle the 5-foot-5, 120-pound junior with a belt and, according to the criminal complaint, use "his forearm with such force as to break the neck of Ashley Reeves."
Authorities have said Reeves and Shelton had a "relationship," though Johnson would not elaborate. He would not say how the girl, who attended a different school, knew the older man.
The investigator would only describe Shelton as a known acquaintance of Reeves 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.
No phone listing could be found for Shelton. 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.
Reeves' family has declined to comment.
Teams with dogs and in helicopters had searched for hours but could not 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 corpse — 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."