Overview of Ashley Summers
A mysterious disappearance leaves many with questions. What happened to Ashley Summers after she walked away from her uncle's pool party?
Ashley Nicole Summers was born June 16, 1993 and grew up in the midst of a large extended family in Cleveland, Ohio. Ashley is the oldest child and often took care of her siblings while her mom, Jennifer Summers, was at work. Family members say that while growing up, Ashley loved making people laugh and acting silly. She is described as outgoing, talkative, and an enthusiast of scary movies. While she was definitely a fun-loving adolescent, she also had a very strong personality and would act on what she felt was right.
Ashley’s biological father was not involved in her life, but she grew up around her mother’s large extended family who provided support and community. Ashley’s family noticed a drastic change in her personality in the time before her 14th birthday; she became recalcitrant and oppositional, particularly towards her mother and her mother’s long-term boyfriend who helped raise Ashley. Around this same time, Ashley began dating a 16 year old boy, Gene Gill, who lived near her house. Because Ashley often had to stay home to watch her younger siblings while her mom was at work, Ashley would invite Gene over to the house during this time without her mother’s knowledge.
Ashley’s mother, Jennifer Summers, only found out about this routine when one of Ashley’s younger brothers brought it to her attention. Jennifer Summers was not happy about this being done behind her back, and she prohibited him from visiting the house, which caused tensions to rise further. The tipping point in the household arose when Jennifer found that Ashley had stolen money from her purse to get a tattoo of her boyfriend’s name at 13 years old. Unable to reason with Ashley, in an attempt to diffuse the tension and deescalate the conflict in their relationship, Jennifer Summers asked her own mother who lives 4 miles away to take Ashley in for the summer. Jennifer thought that Ashley would be on her best behavior for her grandmother, and that the space may ease the strain in their relationship. In addition to staying with her grandmother, Ashley bounced around between family members’ houses who lived in the area during the day while her grandmother was at work, but she checked in with her mother every day on the phone. In the days before her disappearance, Ashley stayed at her uncle Kevin's house, which wasn't unusual, as a lot of her cousins hung out there.
Ashley was last seen on July 9, 2007 after leaving a pool party at her uncle's house in Cleveland, Ohio near the 2100 Block of W 96th Street. Attendees of the party describe Ashley being in a somber mood when she arrived, but that she became more joyful as she got in the pool and talked to her relatives. Ashley left the party early, at around 6 pm, hugging her grand uncle Keith and informing relatives that she would be walking to her aunt’s house to stay. Ashley had all of her clothes with her and no cellphone. Her aunt’s house was just a 10 minute walk away, but Ashley never arrived.
Ashley did own a cellphone, but it was no longer working; her cellphone being broken could also explain her somber mood at the party. Earlier in the day, before the pool party at Uncle Keith’s house, another one of Ashley’s uncles, Kevin Donathan, destroyed her phone after an argument. According to Kevin, he overheard Ashley gossiping about the family on her phone, and it ultimately ended in him smashing Ashley’s phone.
Ashley was known for escaping to family members’ houses to spend the night, but when Jennifer Summers didn’t hear from her daughter for two days, she became very concerned. She called Kevin Donathan’s house to see if Ashley was there, and he said he hadn’t seen her since before the pool party. Jennifer Summers knew that Ashley wasn’t at her mother’s house, so she began calling around to other relatives, with no luck. Beginning to panic, Jennifer Summers went to the police to report Ashley missing. Suspecting that Ashley ran away voluntarily, despite Jennifer Summer’s protests, police designate Ashley as an endangered runaway.
Disappointed in the response from police, Jennifer Summers and family organized search parties and posted flyers around town hoping to illicit tips or communication from Ashley. Mysteriously, all of the flyers were ripped down within a day, though a few tips were submitted. Sources vary on the exact date of Ashley’s disappearance, ranging from July 4th to July 9th, 2007. Most sources report Ashley’s last known location to be near the 2100 Block of W 96th Street on July 9, but one source reports that the FBI now believes Ashley’s last known location was near the area of West 44th Street and Trowbridge Avenue in Cleveland on July 8, 2007.
Four weeks after Ashley’s disappearance, Jennifer Summers received a call at work from a blocked number; the voice on the other end said, “Mom, it’s me. I’m okay. Don’t worry,” before hanging up the phone. Jennifer said that it sounded like Ashley, but that she couldn’t be sure. Later that year, November 17, 2007, Ashley’s grandparents claimed to have seen her walking along W 44th Street in Cleveland, but she was gone by the time they turned the car around. The woman they saw had short blonde hair, which matched tips they had received, and they believe it was Ashley. Sadly, neither of these occurrences led to any valuable information.
Where the Case Stands Today:
The FBI became involved in Ashley’s case around May of 2008 when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children brought the case to their attention. The FBI Cleveland Division started to wonder if Ashley’s case could be connected to other missing girls who disappeared from the Cleveland area. Amanda Berry disappeared April 21, 2003 at the age of 16 while walking home from her job at Burger King, and Georgina DeJesus, age 14, disappeared while walking home from school on April 2, 2004. Amanda Berry, Georgina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, were found safe on May 6, 2013 after Amanda Berry escaped Ariel Castro with the help of neighbors, ending nearly 10 years of captivity. The Cleveland women had all been lured into his car, made easier by the fact that they knew Castro’s daughters. Rumors spread that Ashley may have once been in the house, but authorities could not find any evidence of her ever being there. Castro was sentenced to life in prison plus one thousand years. However, one month into his sentence, Ariel Castro hanged himself in his cell, ending all hope that he could provide answers for Ashley’s disappearance.
Gene Gill, Ashley’s older boyfriend, was out of town at a family reunion at the time of Ashley’s disappearance. Police interviewed Gene multiple times, and his story remained consistent. Taking his alibi into consideration along with his consistent story and lack of suspicion, authorities never named Gene Gill as a person of interest.
Ashley’s family was interrogated and given polygraph tests,, but the results have never been released. Authorities were particularly interested in Ashley’s older male relatives, specifically Kevin Donathan, who fought with Ashley on the day of her disappearance. Ultimately, Ashley’s case remained stagnant, but a glimmer of hope appeared in January of 2015 when a woman was photographed on an ATM security camera inside of a car in Rhode Island.
The Summers family contacted the Cleveland FBI to report that a woman in a photo released by the Warwick Police Department bore a striking resemblance to Ashley, who would have been 21 years old at the time. The photo was released in an attempt to identify two people suspected of running an ATM and identity fraud scheme. The FBI has confirmed that it is not Ashley in the photos.
A more recent development, which may or may not be related to Ashley’s disappearance, involves her uncle Kevin Donathan, who Ashley had an argument with on the day of her disappearance. Kevin Donathan plead not guilty to charges of rape, attempted rape, and gross sexual imposition on December 4, 2018 in addition to gross sexual misconduct of several minors. The 55-year-old admitted to crimes that happened over a span of 25 years, and he was sentenced to 35 years in prison February of 2020. Around one month before Kevin Donathan was arrested, in November 8, 2018, the FBI led a hands-on search the back of his home on Holmden. Despite this search, the FBI has never officially named Kevin Donathan as a suspect in Ashley’s disappearance.
On April 13th, 2021 the FBI dug up land in connection with Ashley’s disappearance in the area of West 43rd Street and Train Avenue in Cleveland based on new tips; however, only animal bones were found. In the time since her disappearance, a few additional potential locations have been identified by authorities, including the 1100 block of Holmden Avenue and the 3400 block of West 44th Street.
Ashley’s social media presence and phone activity ceased on the day of her disappearance, and there have been no confirmed sightings of Ashley since July 9, 2007. If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Ashley Summers, please contact Cleveland Police Department (Ohio) at (216) 623-5005 or the FBI at (216) 522-1400 or https://tips.fbi.gov/