Saturday, June 15, 2024

‘It wasn’t as safe as we thought’: Ashanti Billie’s parents question Navy base security

Meltony and Brandy Billie spoke with the media on Thursday about the murder of their 19-year-old daughter Ashanti Billie. (Adrienne Mayfield/Southside Daily)

VIRGINIA BEACH — When Ashanti Billie told her father that she wanted to accept a job at a sub shop located on a U.S. Navy base, the 24-year Army veteran thought it seemed like a good idea.

Ashanti Billie told her dad, Meltony, that she wanted to begin working as an assistant manager at a Blimpie sub shop on Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story because it would allow her to give back to military members. The 19-year-old culinary student suffered from epilepsy-driven seizures and knew she’d never be able to join the military like her mother and father before her.

“We really felt comfortable with our daughter being on that base because we saw it as a safe environment,” Meltony Billie said on Thursday. “Unfortunately it wasn’t as safe as we thought.”

Ashanti Billie hadn’t been living in Virginia Beach for very long when she was abducted from the Navy base on Sept. 18. Eleven days later, her body was found in tall grass near a church in Charlotte, N.C. — about 300 yards away from the childhood home of the man who would eventually be charged with her murder.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that they had a suspect in custody: A 45-year-old Navy veteran who authorities believe was homeless and living on area Navy bases.

Eric Brian Brown, a retired information system technician who’d spent 21 years in the service, was charged by federal prosecutors with kidnapping. Hours later, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police charged him with murder.

Brandy Billie said that they still aren’t sure where her daughter died, but that the federal charge is an “umbrella” charge that could include murder at a later date.

Brown was familiar with Ashanti Billie. He had a veteran’s identification card that allowed him access to military bases, worked as a day laborer and was a member of the crew who built the Blimpie shop the teenager worked at, according to court documents filed in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Virginia.

Still, Ashanti Billie’s parents wonder how a man who was apparently homeless and living in the nooks and crannies of Hampton Roads’ Navy bases didn’t raise security suspicions.

“How is it that this guy was able to roam around base?” Meltony Billie said.

Ashanti Billie’s coworkers told the FBI that Brown had previously shown interest in the teenager. They said he came to the sub shop almost every day, flirting with Ashanti Billie and commenting on her appearance, court documents state.

After she disappeared, Brown stopped coming to the shop, her coworkers said.

Meltony Billie said that his daughter never mentioned Brown as a person she was concerned about. He added that he and Brandy Billie taught their daughter to try to deal with life’s challenges in her own way and to come to them if her problems seemed too big to manage.

“At that point, she never mentioned it to us,” Meltony Billie said.

Another source who knew Brown told the FBI that he had a history of “hate” toward black women, viewing them as “gold diggers” who only had relationships with men who had money. He allegedly said that black women are “hypnotized by social media” and spent too much time worrying about their hair, court documents state.

“If that’s your belief, that’s crazy,” Meltony Billie said of the possibility his daughter was targeted because of her race. “A life is a life. That’s not a reason to press your will on somebody just because you don’t like them. If you don’t like them, don’t deal with them.”

Ashanti Billie’s parents said that while they are happy that someone has been charged with her murder, they are left with concerns.

A surveillance video released by area media that showed someone driving her car and allegedly dumping her cellphone in a dumpster in Norfolk on the day she went missing appears to feature a lighter-skinned person than Brown.

“It made me question, is somebody else involved?” Meltony Billie said.

Evidence against Brown includes his DNA, which was allegedly found on Ashanti Billie’s body. When he was interviewed by police, he said that he blacked out on the night of Sept. 17 and couldn’t remember anything he’d done for several days. He also said that he couldn’t confirm or deny having kidnapped Billie, court documents state.

Brandy and Meltony Billie said they refuse to believe that Brown doesn’t remember what happened to their daughter, adding that if he had a history of blacking out he likely wouldn’t have been allowed to work on a Navy base.

“I don’t believe it. It’s an excuse,” she said. “I think he’s just using it as a cover-up.”

Meltony Billie said that although he views his daughter as the “rainbow after the storm,” he feels remorseful when he thinks about the fear and pain she went through leading up to her death.

“I knew my daughter had probably cried out for her father, because I’ve always been there,” Meltony Billie said. “When she encountered this guy, it was my job to be there — I fell short of that.”

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