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Nearly two decades have passed, and a mother is still searching for her teenage daughter who went missing from a community pool on the Fourth of July weekend.
On July 6, 2004, Tammy Mack dropped off Ashley Martinez, 15, and Ashley’s little brother at the Krug Park community pool in St. Joseph, Missouri, according to St. Joseph’s News-Press Now. It was around noon, with Tammy arranging to pick them up a few hours later.
But when she returned, Ashley was nowhere to be found.
“I dropped her off, her and her brother, and when [I] returned that afternoon to pick them both back up, he was here, but she was gone,” Tammy Mack told the local newspaper in 2017. “At first, we kind of took it as a runaway situation, and I don’t doubt at first that it was.”
Tammy said that Ashley’s brother and other locals at the pool saw Ashley get into a car with an older man. It's believed that man was 32-year-old Christopher Matthias Hart, who matched the description of the person she was seen with, according to NBC News' Dateline.
“We do have proof that she had gotten in that car with him, and that was the last time we’ve seen her,” Tammy told News-Press Now.
Ashley Martinez had run away before, Tammy told Dateline, according to NBC News, but that was back in 2001, and Ashley returned home the next day. Several friends also told St. Joseph PD investigators that Ashley had talked about running away in the past.
“At first, I thought she ran away. It was typical of her, yes, but in the same breath, it wasn’t,” Tammy told Dateline. “Something about this didn’t feel right.”
Hart was arrested on multiple occasions in the weeks following the disappearance, according to public court records. None of the charges were related to Ashley, however.
Hart received a 15-year sentence in a Missouri prison for assault and tampering with a motor vehicle and was released in 2015.
In 2017, Hart’s cousin came forward as a witness and told News-Press Now that she’d seen Ashley and Hart together before Ashley’s disappearance.
“I remember going over to Chris’ house. He told me he met a girl,” said Julie Wahlgren, who was also a friend of Ashley’s. “She was there, and he told me he’d met her at Krug Pool. The next day, a couple days later maybe, I went back over there, and she was there, and they were talking about going to Oregon.”
Tammy Mack said police had questioned Hart, but he wasn’t cooperating, according to News-Press News.
“She [the detective] goes up to see him, he refuses to see her, and out the door she goes… they’ve tried a couple of times throughout the years,” said Tammy. “Two to my knowledge, two.”
A new lead came to light earlier this year when an newly surfaced affidavit provided by the family of Christopher Hart presented the notion that Ashley could have been with someone else.
Denise Campbell, the former administrator at Robidoux Middle School, signed a sworn statement where she recounted seeing Ashley in the autumn of 2004, months after her disappearance with a man who wasn't Hart. according to the affidavit, obtained by News-Press Now.
Campbell said she was sure it was Ashley.
“I was positive it was her as I had been an assistant principal when she attended and had many dealing with her,” Campbell said, noting that she saw Ashley twice that day.
Now, 17 years after Ashley’s disappearance, her mother still holds onto hope.
“It’s been a long 17 years,” said Tammy, according to NBC News. “Sometimes I wonder what she’d be like today. But sometimes I don’t want to. I just think of her as my bubbly, happy 15-year-old daughter.”
Anyone with information is urged to contact the St. Joseph Police Department at 816-271-4777 or 816-271-4747 or the Missouri State Highway Patrol at 1-800-877-3452.
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