In a personal op-ed, the actress recalls her mother's devastating final moments in the hopes of making meaningful legislative change.
Ashley Judd has set her sights on creating meaningful legislative change in the aftermath of her mother's death by suicide and the subsequent police investigation that followed. In a personal op-ed written for The New York Times, Ashley looks back on mom Naomi Judd's final moments and the invasive line of questioning she says she endured from authorities at the time.
Earlier this month, the country legend's family formally asked a judge to seal police reports and recordings made during the course of its investigation into her death. The family said that, should the police reports and recordings be made available to the public, it would bring "significant trauma and irreparable harm" to the family.
"As my family and I continue to mourn our loss, the rampant and cruel misinformation that has spread about her death, and about our relationships with her, stalks my days," Ashley writes in her op-ed. "The horror of it will only worsen if the details surrounding her death are disclosed by the Tennessee law that generally allows police reports, including family interviews, from closed investigations to be made public."
Naomi died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 30, 2022. She was 76.
The family said at the time that Naomi had suffered from PTSD and bipolar disorder and, in an interview on Good Morning America in May, Ashley said that she was the one to discover Naomi's failing body in the wake of the gunshot and dialed 911.
"Family members who have lost a loved one are often revictimized by laws that can expose their most private moments to the public," she now writes. "In the immediate aftermath of a life-altering tragedy, when we are in a state of acute shock, trauma, panic and distress, the authorities show up to talk to us. Because many of us are socially conditioned to cooperate with law enforcement, we are utterly unguarded in what we say."
Ashley continues, "I gushed answers to the many probing questions directed at me in the four interviews the police insisted I do on the very day my mother died -- questions I would never have answered on any other day and questions about which I never thought to ask my own questions, including: Is your body camera on? Am I being audio recorded again? Where and how will what I am sharing be stored, used and made available to the public?"
The actress and activist, 54, recalls feeling "cornered and powerless" as she was questioned by authorities during her mother's last breaths. Still, she adds, she holds no ill will toward the responding officers that day.
"I want to be clear that the police were simply following terrible, outdated interview procedures and methods of interacting with family members who are in shock or trauma and that the individuals in my mother’s bedroom that harrowing day were not bad or wrong," she clarifies. "I assume they did as they were taught. It is now well known that law enforcement personnel should be trained in how to respond to and investigate cases involving trauma, but the men who were present left us feeling stripped of any sensitive boundary, interrogated and, in my case, as if I was a possible suspect in my mother’s suicide."
Ashley adds, "Though I acknowledge the need for law enforcement to investigate a sudden violent death by suicide, there is absolutely no compelling public interest in the case of my mother to justify releasing the videos, images and family interviews that were done in the course of that investigation."
For now, the family continues to await a court's decision on whether that content will be sealed or made public.
"This profoundly intimate personal and medical information does not belong in the press, on the internet or anywhere except in our memories," she pens.
"We have asked the court to not release these documents not because we have secrets. We have always been an uncannily open family, which explains part of the public’s love for my mother. Folks identified with her honesty about her mistakes, admired her for her ability to survive hardship and delighted in her improbable stardom," she continues. "We ask because privacy in death is a death with more dignity. And for those left behind, privacy avoids heaping further harm upon a family that is already permanently and painfully altered."