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Ashley Okland, a 27-year-old Iowa Realty agent, was shot twice and killed shortly before 2 p.m. on Friday, April 8, 2011, while working inside a West Des Moines model townhouse.
A Rottlund Homes employee heard a commotion inside the model townhouse at 558 Stone Creek Court — part of the Stone Creek Villas subdivision near 84th St. and E.P. True Parkway in Des Moines developed by Rottlund Homes — and went to investigate. Inside, the worker discovered Okland on the floor and called 911.
Medics rushed Okland to the Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines, where she later died.
Iowa Realty chief executive Mike Knapp had all the company’s agents notified, asking them to shut down operations and cancel weekend open houses until they knew more about the shooting. The company offered grief counseling to Okland’s coworkers while making plans to reach out to her family.
West Des Moines police — who’ve said they have no suspects in the young woman’s murder — do not believe the killing was a random act.
“There is no reason to believe this is anything but an isolated incident,” West Des Moines police spokesman Lt. James Barrett said in an interview with the Des Moines Register published April 8, 2011. “However, investigators are still trying to determine a motive and possible suspects in the shooting.”
The Stone Creek Villas development area consists of about 70 one-year-old units on West Des Moines’ Dallas County side, about 1-1/2 miles from Jordan Creek Town Center.
CBS News featured Okland’s case on the company’s Crimesider website in late April. The blog/website focuses on true crime stories and is regularly updated by producers of CBS’s TV show “48 Hours.”
Hundreds of calls have poured in to the Polk County Crime Stoppers tip line — many of the callers providing the same two or three names and information about a black SUV, possibly a Cadillac Escalade — that was spotted near the model home where Okland had been working.
The calls have remained mostly anonymous, with callers given random report numbers to use whenever they call back.
Two weeks after Okland’s murder, Bill Corwin of “A Tech Security” reported a 30 percent increase in business.
“Anytime something is unknown it challenges people’s security,” Corwin told KCCI-TV in an April 18 interview.
West Des Moines Police spokesman Lt. Jim Barrett in September 2011 told KCCI they’d had over 600 leads, talked to 400 people and had 200 Crime Stoppers tips. Despite all leads, Barrett said, police still didn’t have a suspect.
One year after Okland’s murder, Barrett said investigators had followed up on more than 700 leads and have more than 550 names in a database related to the case. Police have executed a number of search warrants.
Polk County Crime Stoppers initially offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, and the reward quickly jumped to $66,785, then to $75,000, and as of Jan. 4, 2012 was at $80,000. On April 2, Barrett announced the reward had reached $150,000.
It is the largest Polk County Crime Stoppers reward ever created.
Okland’s mother, Deb Cochran, told KCCI on May 19, 2011, she believes there are some clues.
“I think she knew the person, because there was no struggle,” Cochran said. “I’m sure she looked up, gave a big smile and probably that was it.”
The family also told KCCI that Okland sent a text message to a friend less than five minutes before she died; it was not a plea for help.
“Ashley trusted everybody. She was always so positive,” said Okland’s brother, Josh Okland. “It wouldn’t cross her mind to think that someone was not there just to do business.”
In a Jan. 1, 2012 Des Moines Register article, Ashley’s younger sister, Brittany Okland, encouraged anyone with information to contact investigators. “Even something little could end up being something big,” she told the Register.
Cochran said in the same interview she prays every day for justice for her daughter.
From (KCCI.com): On Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, the Iowa Association of Realtors donated $100,000 to the Ashley Okland Star Playground Project.
“Ashley had an amazing gift for making people feel special, welcomed, and included. This is representative of the way Ashley lived; including and welcoming others, and most importantly making sure everyone was having fun! The playground is an awesome way to keep her positive attitude alive and with us all,” said Jen Stanbrough, Okland’s friend, during the press conference held to announce the donation.
Okland was found dead during a 2011 open house at a townhome project in West Des Moines. No one has yet been charged in her death.
Variety — The Children’s Charity of Iowa is working on the playground project, which will be the first in the metro to provide play opportunities for children with special needs.
The Association said it and its members have together raised a significant amount of money for the project.
A fundraising campaign by Variety for the project was launched with the hope of raising $500,000.
The playground is planned in Des Moines’ Ewing Park. A groundbreaking was held Monday, May 5, 2014.
Learn more about the project and how to donate at http://ashleyoklandstarplayground.com.
An Oct. 1, 2014 KCRG-TV9 story said authorities in West Des Moines were planning to check with investigators in Arkansas to see if there was any connection between Okland’s murder and that of 49-year-old Beverly Carter, a Little Rock, Arkansas realtor who was killed after setting up an appointment to show an empty home.
Carter was reported missing Sept. 25, 2014, and the Pulaski (Ark.) County Sheriff’s Office said her body was found Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 in a shallow grave.
A Des Moines Register article by Christopher Pratt republished at USAToday.com on Oct. 1, 2014, said of Carter’s murder:
Authorities in Arkansas have arrested parolee Arron Michael Lewis, 33, of Jacksonville, Ark., and charged him with capital murder in connection with the case. Police accuse Lewis of setting up an appointment with Carter to view a vacant house in a rural area near Little Rock then killing her a burying her body on the grounds of a concrete company where he once worked.
Officials had not yet stated how Carter died or what they had linking Lewis to the crime.
West Des Moines police spokesman Sgt. Ken O’Brien said police want to know where Lewis was in April 2011 when Ashley Okland was killed.
Ashley Okland was born December 30, 1983 in Ames, Iowa. She grew up in Kelley and was involved in sports, dance, 4-H, and piano. She attended Ballard High School, graduating in the top three percent of the 2002 class. After two years at the University of Northern Iowa she transferred to Iowa State University with dreams of becoming a physical therapist, and graduated in 2006 with a degree in exercise science.
After graduation, however, the lure of real estate quickly turned into a passion, and she began working for the real estate company, JDR Group, in 2007. She worked at Century 21 before joining Iowa Realty in 2010.
A transplanted country girl at heart, she lived happily in West Des Moines with her “Hun” Eric and new pup, Indi. Above all else, Ashley loved spending time with her family and friends. Always on the go, her biggest struggle was finding the time to make everyone feel as special as she thought they should.
Okland donated her free time and efforts to charity and was active in both social and professional organizations. She regularly donated to the Bill Reichardt Clothes Closet — an organization named after a late Des Moines clothier that provided free clothing to young professionals beginning their careers — and also volunteered at Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Central Iowa.
A member of the Young Professionals Connection, Okland served as the group’s sports chair and helped organize the 2010 Golden Circle Games.
“She could handle herself professionally and still bring a lot of fun and positive energy into any room she was in, and I always appreciated that,” the organization’s president, Jason Wells, said in an April 8 Register story. Wells had purchased his Stone Creek Village home with Okland’s help.
Always the event planner, Okland enjoyed traveling, concerts, golfing, exercising, and just being busy. Those who knew her remembered Ashley as ambitious and upbeat with a giving nature — a beautiful girl inside and out.
Visitation was held Tuesday, April 12, 2011 at Fjeldberg Lutheran Church in Huxley, Iowa, from 4 to 8 p.m. More than 1,600 people attended the Celebration of Life ceremony on Thursday at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines.
“What happened to Ashley Okland is evil. It was evil. And there’s no other way to say it,” Rev. Mike Housholder told mourners during the service. “There’s nothing righteous about it. There’s no moral in it. It was evil.”
Housholder said the verdict was in, and that in the end, justice would be done and grace offered to those who mourned.
“For all of you — don’t let her die in vain,” he said. “Learn what she learned in life. It’s about the things that last — love, joy and peace.”
Ashley was buried in Huxley at the Fjeldberg Cemetery in Story County.
Ashley’s survivors included the love of her life, Eric Grubb (WDM), a sister, Brittany Okland (Minneapolis), a brother, Josh Okland (Ames), father, Tim Okland (Kelley), mother, Deb Cochran (Huxley), grandmother, Margaret Okland (Huxley), grandmother, Marilyn Gregg (Clarion), 10 loving aunts and uncles, and 33 cousins.
Ashley’s grandfathers, Kenneth Okland and Charlie Gregg, preceded her in death.
Police are asking anyone with information about Okland’s murder to contact the West Des Moines Police Department at 515-222-3344 or Polk County Crime Stoppers at 515-223-1400. You may also text “PCCS plus your message” to CRIMES (274637) or provide a tip online.
Tips through Crime Stoppers can be made anonymously.