Friends and family of Ashley Lucas tell Dateline they all have the same Christmas wish this year — for the 34-year-old Texas native to be found safe.
“We just want to know that she’s OK,” Ashley’s sister, Jennifer “Jen” Ackerson, said. “For no one to hear from her for this long… it doesn’t make sense.”
Ashley has been missing since the end of September 2020, but left Texas on July 8 to drive to Florida for a 2-week job caring for her friend’s elderly mother.
She never returned home.
Jen told Dateline she last spoke to her sister on the phone at the end of August.
“She was planning to come back home around that time, so we talked about that,” Jen explained. “She didn’t say anything abnormal so everything seemed OK.”
Jen said her sister has been known to go off on her own for weeks at a time, but would always call someone to check in.
“She always… always called our mom,” Jen said. “For her not to be in contact with mom is not like her. She constantly worries about her and will call the police to perform a welfare check if mom doesn’t answer her phone. She would never put her through this.”
Jen told Dateline that other than Texas and Florida, her sister has close ties to Ohio, and believes she could be in one of the three states.
“We hope by keeping her story out there, someone will see her picture and call the police,” Jen said. “We just want to know that she is safe and OK.”
Ashley’s friend and roommate in Florida, Jeff Epperly, told Dateline he believes he’s one of the last people to see her. They had been friends for a little over a year and Ashley had agreed to care for his mom in Lake Placid, Florida for two weeks while his sister was on vacation.
“She worked for about 10 days before my sister came home early,” Jeff said. “But Ashley wanted to stay in Florida so we ended up getting an apartment together.”
Jeff told Dateline that life in Dania Beach, Florida good, but in the weeks leading up to Ashley’s disappearance, things took a turn for the worse.
“She was going through a lot in her life… drug addiction, mental issues,” Jeff said. “Seemed like that all came down on her at once and she started breaking down.”
Jeff told Dateline that, like Ashley’s sister, he noticed Ashley always worried about her mother back in Texas. Shortly before she disappeared, Ashley received a text from a Florida number. She said text stated it was her mother.
“She became very paranoid and thought her mom had been kidnapped,” Jeff said. “She even thought I was involved. But then she’d apologize and everything would be OK a few days later.”
Jeff said Ashley went to the emergency room multiple times for anxiety attacks in August before eventually checking into a drug treatment center in Fort Lauderdale. Jeff told Dateline Ashley had told him to hold on to her important papers and that she’d return for them. He added that Ashley got rid of her cell phone, which was disconnected, but he knew she would find a way to contact him.
Weeks passed and when Jeff didn’t hear from Ashley, he was worried. He checked multiple mental health facilities before discovering that she was last seen leaving a facility at 901 Northeast 17th Street in Fort Lauderdale on September 19, 2020.
“We were always in contact,” Jeff said. “If there was an issue, she’d call me. She’s my best friend. To not hear from her… I just don’t understand.”
He reported her missing to the Fort Lauderdale Police Department on October 9, 2020 and they started an investigation.
According to Public Information Specialist Casey Liening, this information was the initial information provided to police, but “further investigation by our detectives revealed Ashley was last seen in West Palm Beach and was Baker acted by the West Palm Beach Police Department on September 24. Following her release a few days later, it appears she did not make contact with family or the reportee and has not been heard from since.”
The “Baker Act,” which allows for involuntary examination of up to 72 hours, can be initiated by law enforcement officials, judges, doctors or health care professionals. There must be evidence that the person has a mental illness and/or is in danger of harming themselves or another person.
Liening told Dateline that the investigation into Ashley’s disappearance is considered active and ongoing and that FLPD Detectives have been in contact with Ashley’s mom throughout the investigation. She added that detectives do not have any indication that foul play is involved, but encourage anyone with information to call police.
Ashley’s sister, Jen, and her family said they feel like they’re in the dark, being so far away in Texas. But they are trying to spread the word about Ashley’s case on social media with the Facebook page “Find Ashley Lucas” and the hashtag #FindAshleyLucas.
“There’s so many people out there who love her and are looking for her,” Jen told Dateline. “We’re not giving up.”
Jen said she’s had her ups and downs with her sister, whom she describes as outgoing and someone who has never met a stranger.
“She makes friends wherever she goes,” Jen said. “I don’t know if that’s a good thing or bad… I just worry about the people she was around, even though she was trying to change her life and get some help. I just hope being friends with the wrong people wasn’t her downfall.”
Ashley’s friend Jeff told Dateline he continues to hang fliers and talk to people in the South Florida area, but adds he loses hope as each day passes.
“I don’t want to lose hope, but it’s hard and I’m starting to think the worst,” Jeff said. “I feel so guilty… because I asked Ashley to come back to Florida. If something happened to her, I’d never forgive myself.”
Jeff told Dateline that while he understands Ashley was suffering through addiction and mental issues, he said he believed she was trying to get on the right track and wanted to live a new life.
“She was always so worried about something happening to her mom, but then something like this happens to her,” Jeff said. “Maybe she knew. Because she told me that if she ever went missing, she wanted me to come find her. So her family wouldn’t worry. And I intend to keep that promise.”
With the holidays just around the corner, Jeff told Dateline he only wants one thing this Christmas.
“A phone call… to let me know that Ashley is OK,” he said. “That’s all I could ever want.”
Ashley is 5’9” tall, weighs approximately 145 lbs and has brown hair and green eyes. She has several tattoos on both arms, legs, and upper chest.