Wanda “Ashley” Stock only lived with congressional shooter James Hodgkinson and his wife for three months before she poured gas on herself and lit herself on fire in 1996.
The 18-year-old foster child’s unusual manner of death raised eyebrows after Hodgkinson sprayed gunfire at Republican congressmen who were practicing June 14 for a charity baseball game. But police records reviewed by the News-Democrat make it clear that her death, while unusual, was a suicide.
“The manner is certainly unusual,” said Ronald William Maris, a therapist who specializes in suicide. “It’s something that occurs in Asian culture, political-type suicides; Buddhist monks do things like this. It’s unusual for a teenage girl.”
The Belleville West High School student had been in foster care for much of her childhood. Her last placement was with the Hodgkinsons.
“I remember feeling like a burden to society since, well, as long as I can remember,” Stock wrote in a note found in her bedroom at the Hodgkinson home on North 29th Street in Belleville on Oct. 22, 1996.
Stock may have been pregnant, police reports and her journal stated.
“I’ve been getting excited about the baby. I want this so bad. Another you, but inside me 24 hours a day for nine months,” she wrote.
There was a breakup with her boyfriend that afternoon of her suicide, according to police reports.
“Starting at five, I decided whether to take a bath, brush my teeth, do my work and make my food because no one was ever there to do it for me, except for my friends’ parents. They cared more than anyone else. Since then, I’ve lived a very independent life. The only people who got to choose what I was or wasn’t going to do were those who had befriended me and gave me a reason to understand that they wanted the best for me.” she wrote. “(My boyfriend) was one of those people. I knew the reason that he told me what to do was because he wanted only the best for me and because he was gong to stick with me.”
More than 20 years after Stock’s death, Hodgkinson fired on the group of Republican lawmakers in Alexandria, Va. He wounded Republican Whip Steve Scalise, along with a Capitol Police officer, a congressional staffer and a lobbyist. Hodgkinson, 66, died in an exchange of gunfire with police. Scalise remained hospitalized Saturday in fair condition.
James and Sue Hodgkinson were licensed foster parents from 1990 until 2003.
Stock, 18, came to their home around August 1996.
Stock was despondent over the breakup with the boyfriend, police said. She had tried suicide before, police reports stated, by inhaling carbon monoxide, but the boyfriend saved her. She later told him the next time she would try fire to “get it done.”
And late in the afternoon on Oct. 23, 1996, Stock’s red 1986 Pontiac Sunbird was found on fire on Mine Haul Road — near that boyfriend’s home. Stock was behind the wheel. She left a crude will behind, leaving her possessions to her best friend.
At the time, Suzanne Hodgkinson said the teenager’s death was a complete surprise. Hodgkinson passed her foster daughter in the car and was quoted by a News-Democrat reporter as saying, “She didn’t pull out of the driveway in a frenzy. She drove at a normal pace. There was no indication that there was anything wrong.”
One odd detail Deputy Coroner Danny Haskenhoff recalled is that two gas cans were found some distance back from the section of road where the flaming car was found.
Sue Hodgkinson identified one of the gas cans as coming from their garage. Steve Johnson, at the time an investigator for the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, recalled watching gas station surveillance video of Stock filling the gas can.
Despite all the indicators, such as a troubled past, a painful breakup and a past suicide attempt, it would be difficult to predict Stock’s actions, Marin said.
“Suicide, on an individual basis, is not a predictable thing,” Maris said. “Many people who are suicidal never commit suicide.”
Stock didn’t mention the Hodgkinsons by name in her writings, but she did mention foster parents.
“All of my foster parents would brag about my good grades and behavior,” Stock wrote. “No one ever helped me with my homework or even made sure it was done.”
Another of the Hodgkinsons’ foster daughters died young. Cathy Rainbolt was 26 when she died from a drug overdose. She had been in the Hodgkinsons’ home since she was a small child.
She alleged her foster father was an abusive alcoholic, who beat her when she argued or didn’t complete her chores satisfactorily, according to Cathy Rainbolt’s juvenile file, which was unsealed last week at the request of the News-Democrat.
A search of court records did not uncover Stock’s juvenile file. It isn’t clear how she came to be placed with the Hodgkinsons.
James Hodgkinson was charged in 2006 with abusing Rainbolt. She subsequently was placed in another foster home, then came under the guardianship of a neighbor of Hodgkinson. The case against Hodgkinson was later dismissed.
Stock never wrote that she was being abused.