BOSTON Lauren Astley’s father has said that two lives were lost when his 18-year-old daughter was killed — not just Astley’s, but also the life of her former boyfriend, Nathaniel Fujita. Fujita, 20, was sentenced this month to life in prison. He murdered Astley in their hometown of Wayland almost two years ago when she met up with him after their breakup. Now Astley’s parents hope some good will be done in their daughter’s name.
They’ve created the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, which sponsors programs to help prevent teen dating violence and promote healthy teenage relationships. It also supports the arts and community service, which were a big part of Astley’s life. WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Astley’s mother, Mary Dunne, about what lessons she hopes other teenagers will learn from her daughter’s death.
Mary Dunne: Breaking up in public. Making your friends aware of the fact that you are going to be breaking up with them. Sitting down with a third party if you have to. Nate didn’t want to talk about this breakup at all. He did not want this. And this one little nugget of not seeing your ex alone, particularly when the breakup has been difficult. If every girl has that in their head right now, if they had had that in their head, then they would have dissuaded her from going alone. If one of them had been in the car with her — I mean, it might have happened eventually, but it wouldn’t have happened then. If that’s the only thing people learn right now, every girl, teenage girl, who’s in a dating relationship: that you don’t do that. That needs to be the cardinal rule, like buckle your seat belt.
Sacha Pfeiffer: So if you’re a friend and you have concerns about another friend’s relationship, what can you do or what should you do?
Well, one of the things is so simple. If you are in the hallway and you see sort of an aggressive conversation going on between two people — this seems really silly to me, but I think I’m beginning to think nothing’s silly any more — dropping something nearby and going to pick it up to sort of defuse the situation. That’s like the very simplest, immediate response that one might do.
A tension breaker?
Exactly. And then the spectrum goes all the way up to actually going to your guidance counselor or having some anonymous kind of way to report your concerns about a friend.
What kinds of warning signs should other kids be looking for in their friends who might have a relationship that isn’t as healthy as it could be?
Well, I think that the signs you’d be looking for would be the same signs that the adults would be looking for. For me, that was do your child’s friends like the significant other? Does your child and her significant other hang out with you and your friends? Or is he kind of trying to isolate your friend and monopolize her? Which, in fact, was the case in our situation. Lauren’s friends did not like her boyfriend, but I don’t think they knew what to do with that fact. I had sort of spotty talks with Lauren’s friends about it, but I wish I had paid more attention to that. As Lauren’s mother, I really feel like I did not get to know Nathaniel. Even though they went out for two-and-a-half years, he was very difficult to engage.
Even if you, as Lauren’s mom, had recognized that for what you now think it is, or even if her friends had and spoke up to her more, do you think that would have changed Lauren’s view about her relationship?
That’s a great question. Teenagers are very single-minded and think they understand everything and know everything. I would like to think that had we all been more vocal, she would have. She had an incredibly tight group of girlfriends and they spent much more time together than she ever spent with Nate. I think kids are going to listen to their friends way more than they’re going to listen to their parents.
Lauren’s dad has used this analogy that just as we wouldn’t put our young kids in a car without a seat belt, maybe we need to be giving them emotional protection to be better able to deal with breakups, especially first loves. Do you feel like kids do need that more than we give it to them now?
Absolutely. How to have a breakup with somebody. They don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re also getting involved much younger and much more deeply than they used to. And I think once you become intimate with somebody, everything changes. And it gets more intense and there’s this more of an ownership kind of piece to it, I think, for some people. I think that he felt entitled and like he might have owned her.
Each time [they broke up], there was a renegotiated truce — something — a new version of “us.” You know, “We’ll go out Friday but not Saturday night” or, “I get to pick.” That kind of thing happened a lot and, in retrospect, I think he was not allowing her to break up with him. He was exerting power and control over her in very subtle but distinct ways.
Let’s say you did know Nate better and he did spend more time at the house. What do you think that could have changed in your relationship with him or his relationship with Lauren?
Well, maybe if I knew Nate better it would have been harder for him to do what he did to my daughter. I feel like, really, the closer you are and the more relational you are to people, the harder it is to do something nasty to them. And I felt kind of anonymous with him, and so that might have made it easier for him to do what he did.