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A new Lifetime movie depicts the heartbreaking story of a teen who was groomed, and then nearly killed, by a trusted teacher who had been sexually abusing her.
In “Left for Dead,” 17-year-old Ashley Reeves, played by Anwen O'Driscoll, is strangled and then – literally – left for dead in a wooded area for more than 30 hours before being discovered. Meanwhile, her attacker, Sam Shelton, went out dancing after assuming he'd silenced her forever.
Even when she was rescued, Reeves' plight was not over. She spent months in a hospital recovering from her injuries which included a traumatic brain injury.
As a result, she had to relearn how to talk, walk and do all the things she had loved before the attempted murder. The film depicts Reeves' frustration as, once a promising athlete, she struggled to relearn basic motor functions. It also portrays her fight with a community that blamed her for the sexually abusive relationship she had with Shelton, and who chose to side with the attempted murderer, citing his "good reputation."
In the film, Reeves bravely testified at Shelton's sentencing in order to make her voice heard in society, making it clear that Shelton was the one at fault and not her. She explained how she trusted him, how he groomed her, and then manipulated her into sex. Reeves also asserted that he tried to kill her after she tried to end the relationship.
The teenager is depicted in tears, telling the packed courtroom, “I had to dig deep and fight to get my voice back in every way. I worked hard to be able to stand on my own two feet and I had to face my own hometown where some people thought that this was my fault.”
The movie is based on the real-life case of Reeves, 17, who was attacked by 26-year-old Shelton in April of 2006 in Belleville, Illinois. The high school junior was found in a densely wooded park more than 30 hours after Shelton broke Reeves' neck with his forearm and tried to strangle her with a belt, CBS News reported at the time. When investigators rescued her, she couldn't move and was covered in insect bites.
And, just as the movie depicts, Shelton went out on the town following the attempted murder. Video captured him line dancing at a local country music club that evening. Law enforcement zeroed in on him quickly though and interviewed him for 12 hours before he confessed and led police to where he left Reeves.
Shelton, who had been Reeves' gym teacher in middle school, befriended the teen months before the attack. He had admitted to having sex with her at least once. Reeves said he tried to kill her after she attempted to end the relationship, Crime Watch Daily reported in 2017.
Reeves had to fight to be herself again following the attack, re-learning how to walk and talk all over again.
"She's tough. One of the toughest people that you would meet," Swansea Police Chief Steven Johnson told Crime Watch Daily.
She also faced backlash in her town, a spokesperson for Cineflix Inc., the production company responsible for "Left For Dead," told Oxygen.com in a statement.
"While it obviously wasn’t the entire town, there were indeed many rumors and negative statements made about Ashley after her attack. She was accused of many things and did face victim blaming and have to overcome it as part of her ordeal," they stated.
They added that Reeves worked with the prosecution and "went to the hearing in order to face him in person on the final day."
"The film has combined all of that material into the single scene at the end," they explained.
Shelton pleaded guilty to attempted murder in 2007 and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars, the Associated Press reported. The outlet noted that Reeves was still coping with her injuries and in rehabilitation at the time for her broken neck.
In 2017, Reeves returned to the spot where her former teacher had left her for dead for an interview with Crime Watch Daily. She told the outlet that she persevered and now has two children, a job, and a busy schedule.
"Don't give up. Don't ever give up on yourself," Reeves said in that interview. "There's bigger, better things out there. I've gone through plenty of hardships, and it's just, just keep fighting. Every day it's a struggle, but you just gotta keep on trudging."
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