- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2000

COLUMBIA, Md. Cut flowers left on the soft dirt yesterday marked the spot where someone stabbed Ashley Nicole Mason, 14, then dragged her over a concrete curb and through underbrush into a stand of trees.

Howard County police are still seeking tips and examining Internet chat-room records from Sterling, Va.-based America Online that could solve the mystery of who killed her between Nov. 2 and Nov. 3. Ashley had returned to her Long Reach-area home from a reported runaway attempt only hours before her death.

Employees at a Pizza Hut carryout nearby say the steady flow of teen-agers has slowed to a trickle most evenings at the dead-end pocket of a parking lot off Bendix Road where Ashley apparently was killed.

A 14-year-old girl who lives in the same cluster of town houses where Ashley lived with her mother said she had spoken to Ashley a few times since they both moved into the neighborhood over the summer.

"I was freaked out, but I think parents are more worried than my friends," said the girl, who asked that her name not be used. "They think it had to be someone she knew."

Police are investigating an on-line relationship Ashley, identifying herself as VICIOUSBABYGURL, had with an AOL user whose on-line moniker was SODACAN21 and who may have threatened to harm her if she stopped exchanging messages.

A Web page for SODACAN21 claims he is a 16-year-old boy named Neal who lives in Orlando, Fla., and likes "beer" but not "Communists and stupid people." The page also contained a favorite quote about broken old men being "survivor[s]."

Howard police say a passer-by discovered a knife lying in Bendix Road Nov. 3 the same morning that delivery men searching for a dentist's office spotted a pool of blood on the asphalt and a trail that led them to the victim.

Police said the knife had been removed from the area before they arrived to investigate about 11 a.m. that Friday morning two weeks ago.

The person whom police have not identified but say is not a suspect kept the knife for a week before handing it over to police to examine as a possible weapon in Ashley's killing.

Investigators are releasing few details about the victim's wounds, but say there was no evidence of sexual assault.

Although the knife is being tested for evidence, results are not expected for several weeks and police said they will not release details as long as the crime is under investigation.

Traces of Ashley's life show in notes posted on a light pole at the makeshift memorial where she died.

One writer recalled a regular ritual shared with Ashley going to a gas station to get chewing gum. Another friend wrote she would always remember Ashley's smile.

Amid the bouquets and abandoned markers used to write goodbyes on the pavement stood a capped, empty bottle that once contained a cognac and passion fruit juice concoction, according to its label.

High on the light pole a note apparently penned by Ashley's mother, Crystal Mason, thanks mourners for their prayers and pleads for anyone with information to contact her or call the Howard County police 24-hour tip line at 410/313-2283.

Police are offering $8,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Ashley's killer.

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