WAYLAND, Mass. Earlier this month, 18-year-old Lauren Astley of Wayland was strangled to death, her body left in a marsh. Police say her former boyfriend, 18-year-old Nathaniel Fujita, killed her in reaction to their April break-up.
Lauren’s father, Malcolm Astley, a town school committee member and former principal, says he badly wants some good to result from this tragedy — maybe a better understanding of teen dating violence. That attitude of wanting something positive to come out of something horrific has defined his public comments about his daughter’s murder.
WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer sat down with Malcolm Astley on the porch of the family’s Wayland home and asked him to describe Lauren, who was his only child.
Malcolm Astley: Spunky. Laughter was just terribly important to her, and she would bring it if things got too serious. She would lean on me about it. I can be overly serious. I love chewing on things. But she was gradually developing that interest and that capacity. So many interests. Deeply caring and wanting things to be better and not always sure about how to do it and sort of at times tired of my emphasis on that with her. ‘How have you improved the world today, Lauren?’ ‘Well, I let somebody go ahead of me in traffic today.’ She would humor me along.
Sacha Pfeiffer: You would actually ask her things like that?
Yes, but with tongue in cheek, too.
In her death notice, in her obituary, which was very detailed about her, after reading it you felt like you knew her a little. It said that she drove stick shift.
Was that a big deal for her?
It was, and she gradually developed some real pride in it and it got capped when a teacher needed a car moved. She asked, ‘Does anybody know how to drive a stick shift?’ And Lauren said, ‘Yeah, sure!’ And then, the French horn, which she liked to hide from people. She didn’t really want to acknowledge that she played it, but she was very good at it.
Why? Not a cool enough instrument?
Not cool, it’s not cool. But it sounds very beautiful, and she knew it did.
Inevitably, new emotions keep coming out when something like this happens. And what you have shown the world so far is a very unusual sense of forgiveness and compassion and you’ve kept your anger inside.
Some people have thought that I wasn’t raging inside and that’s utterly wrong. I just find places to do it by myself. I head out to the woods and bellow, but on my own.
Why do it in private, rather than publicly?
I don’t think that quite leads to solutions. And it may be affirming somewhat to other people who are outraged at what happened, and I think people are entitled to be outraged. But that’s not going to go anywhere by itself. The phrase I often use with kids in working with them and with staff who are working with kids is: ‘You’ve got to look under the anger.’ As Gandhi and King have said, anger against anger, hatred against hatred, does not in the end do anything more but promote more of the same. Compassion is a mighty powerful force.
Do you think that as new emotions come, you’ll be able to keep that sense of forgiveness that you’ve had so far?
I think so. And I hurt just terribly for what happened, on both counts. I care deeply about Nate and what happens with him. He’s got to face a very hard row. But I want to be open to forgiveness in as many situations as I can, and it’s incredibly rough in this one. But it still is a question of understanding it to me, and something better coming of it.
Do you feel like, at this stage, there’s already something that parents or classmates can learn if there are teenagers in relationships that may be going wrong?
I think we can do a lot more careful exploration of what healthy, loving relationships are, and work on having five to ten points to keep in mind in dating that kids can put in their pockets or throw away. And the single most important one, of course, is if you have a break-up, you don’t have a final visit alone with the partner.
One of the things I’ve read that you’ve said is that not one young person was lost in this, but two young people.
Absolutely. I know Nate’s parents are in the deepest of pain.
Have you talked with his parents?
I talked with his mother. And we just shared our pain together and cried together. And we spent a great deal of time together. We watched Nate play football. He was incredibly graceful. He was an end; I was an end. He was a safety; I was a safety. We had a lot to talk about.
Have you been very involved in designing the memorial service?
Yes, and there will be her music she loved as people come in. A CD came from her a capella group just the other day. They dropped it off and we listened and cried together, and just enjoyed it, too, because it’s full of their chatter and laughter. The sound engineer left the mic on. It’s “Breathless.” It’s all about ‘make me breathless,’ she’s singing.
Is there anything else you want to say about her, in general?
May her spirit just keep barreling on. And I see it in the kids that she’s been close to. And hooray for that too, and it’ll be very important for me to stay in touch with them as they grow and thrive, I hope.