A young woman living her dream in Nashville became the center of a massive citywide search.

Crime Watch Daily Correspondent Nerissa Knight just happened to be with Ashley Brown's family as they received a major update on the case.

Ashley Brown was last seen hanging out with friends on a Saturday night at a Nashville, Tennessee apartment building before she disappeared in December 2016.


It's Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016, exactly one week before Christmas, when Heather Brown calls her sister Ashley. There's no answer.

"We talked on the phone almost every day," said Heather.

Heather is extremely close to her big sister, 27-year-old Ashley Brown, who was living in Nashville and working as a surgical technician at St. Thomas West Hospital. Ashley had been there for nine months and adored her job, according to her family in Tucson, Arizona.

"She loved what she was doing and she was so happy being able to travel everywhere, that was just such a highlight of her life and she was living her dream," said Amy Brown, Ashley's stepmother.

"She loved being around people," said Trevor Brown, Ashley's father. "Very outgoing and she always loved to smile and laugh and have a good time."

On Friday Ashley and a group of friends intended to celebrate their December birthdays and Christmas by taking a ride on the "Holly Trolley," festive transit buses running through music city's historic Downtown Franklin.

And after that, they went to a local pub called Santa's, according to Trevor Brown. After spending an hour or so at the popular Nashville bar, the group heads to an after-party at a friend's apartment near Vanderbilt University.

"Then they all took an Uber back to the friend's apartment" said Amy Brown.

And sometime in the middle of the night, Ashley vanished.

Saturday comes and goes. It's now Sunday when Heather makes that call to her sister, which is never returned. Panicked, heather calls her stepmom. Amy contacts people who were at the party with her stepdaughter. That's when she gets some disturbing news.

"They were cleaning up the apartment and realized her purse was still there," said Amy Brown.

Along with Ashley's wallet and car keys.

"We knew something was wrong," said Trevor Brown.

The family filed a missing-person report and hoped Ashley would show up to work the very next morning.

"When we finally got a hold of her work and found out she hadn't been to work," said Amy Brown. "It wasn't like her to miss work."

Susan Albritton worked with Ashley at St. Thomas Hospital.

"She was part of my team. It was really a tough time to be here at work because our thoughts really were on her and finding her," Albritton.

Feeling helpless back in Tucson, the Browns took immediate action and flew out immediately to Nashville to try to find Ashley. They begin where their daughter was last seen, at the ParkCentral Apartments on 25th Avenue North.

It's now Wednesday and four days since anyone has seen or heard from the 27-year-old surgical technician.

"We got a phone call," said Trevor Brown. "And the guy introduced himself as the chaplain, and the next words he said, I really didn't register because we knew at that point, and then he said that they found her body."

Sadly, Ashley Brown is dead. Her body was discovered five miles away from the apartment building where she disappeared. But when the Browns ask the coroner where exactly their daughter's body was found...

"He wouldn't tell us," said Amy Brown. "He finally gave us a street she was found on. We went ahead and drove to that street. And that's when we saw it was a trash facility," said Amy.

The first autopsy on Ashley Brown was inconclusive -- so police ordered a second one. And Crime Watch Daily was with Ashley Brown's parents as they received official word of what really happened to her the night she disappeared.

Reports of the grisly discovery dominate Music City's news headlines.

"From the minute we found out about this, we have been covering it," said WZTV News Anchor Erika Kurre. "Ashley was found at a refuse facility on the other end of town from where she disappeared. Law enforcement they believe her body was first dumped in a trash bin outside of the apartment complex."

Sadly, Ashley's found just a day before what would have been her 28th birthday, and four days before Christmas.

Ashley's family is left to search for answers. They start with the people who were with Ashley on the night she disappeared.

"There was one girl she knew from the hospital and the rest of them she just met that night," said Amy Brown.

Virtual strangers to Ashley -- and perhaps something else.

"Someone at that apartment knows what happened," said Amy Brown.

But if they do, they aren't talking to the Brown family.

"We've not spoken with anybody that was at the party," said Trevor Brown.

Piecing together tidbits of information, they believe Ashley stepped out of the party around 4 a.m. on Saturday to possibly take a smoke break. But that's about all they have to go on concerning their daughter's timeline of terror.

"We had texts with her [the female tenant of the apartment] when we first got there, and we were supposed to meet up with her and she was going to show us the apartment," said Trevor Brown.

Then suddenly, the woman changes her mind.

"She did not feel comfortable meeting us anymore unless the police were present," said Trevor.

And at this point, Ashley's parents don't even know how their daughter died. The autopsy didn't reveal a cause of death. Ashley's autopsy is ruled inconclusive.


Then, right in the middle of my interview with Ashley's father Trevor, he gets a phone call.

"That was the detective," said Amy Brown.

"Nothing official had been released," said Trevor. "Now they're saying it's definitely being reclassified."

I immediately get Metro P.D.'s Detective Matthew Filter back on the phone to find out more, and it's a shocking revelation about Ashley's last moments alive.

"The autopsy report just classified it as a homicide," said Det. Filter.

Ashley Brown was murdered, and it was brutal.

"Cause of death is blunt-force injuries and strangulation," said Filter.

"I think anytime you have a murder like this, a young beautiful girl, she had a great job, she was helping people, her career was to make people feel better, and so just knowing that someone like that was taken from us here in our town, we want to know who did this and why," said Erika Kurre.

The answers never come.


Then two months later, it's deadly déjà vu.

"Tiffany Ferguson was found stabbed to death six times in her apartment, also on the west side of town," said Kurre.

"What we believe, the door was probably left unlocked. We know that the victim was out socializing into the night," said Metro Police Spokesman Don Aaron.

Tiffany Ferguson's condominium is just three miles from the apartment building where Ashley vanished. And that's not the only thing the women have in common.

"The girls worked at the same hospital," said Kurre. "They were killed just two months apart in a really similar area in town, both areas very nice areas of town. Friends, neighbors, a lot of people in the area wondering if these two cases were connected. They had a lot of similarities."

But one big difference: a suspect was caught frame by frame on surveillance cameras. Video shows the mystery man walking just outside the apartment gate moments before the savage attack on 22-year-old Tiffany Ferguson. The Metro Police Department calls an urgent news conference, and cops identify the man on the surveillance video as 24-year-old drifter Christopher McLawhorn.

"It did appear he was walking in that direction, we believe he was trying apartment doors looking for easy access and that this particular apartment door was open to him. So we think he was there committing burglaries and during the course of the burglary of Ms. Ferguson's apartment, he committed murder," said Don Aaron at a news conference.

Christopher McLawhorn was arrested and charged with the murder of Tiffany Ferguson, but is it possible he's killed before, and could Ashley Brown be one of his victims?

After an extensive investigation, more disappointing news for the Brown family: The Metro Police say at this time there is nothing to indicate Ashley's and Tiffany's murders are related.

Leaving the Brown family empty once again, starting over in their search for a killer.

"We have to live with her absence for the rest of our lives, and that will always be something that's in our hearts and in our minds, is 'Why?'" said Trevor Brown.

Anyone with information about Ashley Brown's murder is asked to contact Nashville Crime Stoppers at (615) 742-7463. Callers to Crime Stoppers can remain anonymous and qualify for a cash reward.

The family has set up an Ashley Brown Memorial Bench. All donations go through Reid Park Zoo -- please specify "Memorial/Tribute" on pull-down menu.

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