Co-workers, community honor life of Ashlee Steele

'Ashlee would not want to define how the rest of our lives go by what happened to her'

Friends of Ashlee Steele gathered Saturday to honor the mother of two in a memorial, three weeks after Ashlee and her sister Kacee Tollefsbol were shot and killed in Steele’s Fitchburg home.

“She lived her life with passion and she was forgiving and caring,” said co-worker Elsa Gumm.

Co-workers and community members are hoping Ashlee Steele’s character of forgiveness is a legacy others will learn from in the midst of tragedy.

“We never really know what someone is experiencing in their personal life even if we think we know them well. So I think that if we can forgive and pray for one another and turn to Jesus’s love in the way we interact with people. That’s the best way to move forward,” Gumm said.

The church of Christ Memorial on Raritan Road held the Saturday memorial service, the same place where Ashlee spent her time teaching preschool.

Students started school just this past week. Colleagues said talking through the pain is what will help them begin to heal.

“It was really hard the first time I walked back into her classroom,” said Karen Hettenbach, Christ Memorial preschool director. “We all knew Ashlee well and we all have similar memories. It’s been great to be able to talk about her with people who knew her really well and who love her and miss her,” Hettenbach continued.

Even those who did not know Ashlee came to pay their respects. Fitchburg Mayor, Shawn Pfaff spoke at the service, encouraging the community to remain strong.

“We lost someone, when we lost Ashlee. Not just literally but we lost someone in our community. So I wanted to be here to say that we all are grieving from this but we all want to move forward,” said Pfaff.

Through the laughter and the tears the community is pushing forward. To honor their colleague, their neighbor, their children’s teacher, but most importantly their friend.

“When things get tough some days we stand together and have a good cry. just as often I would say we get together and laugh about some of the things that we remember about her and that’s what will get us through,” said Hettenbach.

During Saturday’s service community members and their children made cards for that will be sent to the steel and Tollefsbol family, along with law enforcement who have been affected by the case.