Authorities are investigating the murder of former Mississippi House Rep. Ashley Henley, a Republican who served her DeSoto County district from 2016 to 2020, after identifying her body outside the remains of a burned-out trailer in Yalobusha County. The North Mississippi Herald first reported on her death in a Facebook post earlier today.

Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark told the Crirec this afternoon that the trailer burned in December. It is the same trailer in which the body of her sister-in-law, Kristina Michelle Jones, was found after a fire on Dec. 26, 2020.

“(Henley) was found murdered at that location. There was a gunshot wound, but I can’t give any more information on that at the time,” Stark told the Crirec.

He said the cause of Jones’ December death in the trailer was still pending investigation. There were no gunshot wounds on Jones’ body when she was found late last year, but homicide has not been ruled out.

The North Mississippi Herald reported that, according to Assistant District Attorney Steve Jubera, investigators believe Henley “was outside the burned trailer cutting grass when she was murdered.”

Henley Believed Jones Was Murdered

Ashley Henley’s husband, Brandon Henley, commented on the North Mississippi Herald’s Facebook post today.

“Yes it was my wife Ashley Henley that was found murdered in the same place my sister was. She was running a weed eater and was shot in the back of the head according to local authorities,” he wrote. “That’s all they have told us at the moment.”

Brandon Henley previously wrote about his sister’s death in April, saying at the time that he believed Jones’ death was a homicide.

“It’s been 104 days since my sister was murdered. The Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department still refuses to address what happened. This type of crime seems to be a ongoing thing in Yalobusha County,” Brandon Henley wrote. “Maybe now that Sheriff Mark D. Fulco has been re-elected he will have time to address my sisters murder.”

The sheriff’s office did not return a call for comment by publication time.

In a Facebook post on April 8, Brandon Henley shared a photo of his sister, Kristina Michelle Jones, saying he believed she was “murdered.” The Yalobusha County coroner told the Crirec that her cause of death remains under investigation. Screenshot: Brandon Henley/Facebook

Before her own death, Ashley Henley also shared her frustration with the Yalobusha Country Sheriff’s Department in posts on her Facebook page.

“We have been silent long enough,” Ashley Henley wrote in a Facebook post on April 6. “For the past three months my family has held ourselves close, grieving in secret, to cooperate with the requests of the Yalobusha County Sheriff’s Department as they proclaimed to be working on the investigation into the murder of my sister-in-law, which occurred at approximately 1:30 a.m. on December 26th, 2020.”

Ashley Henley’s post included a photo of a small wooden billboard at the site of the trailer fire with the words “I WAS MURDERED” spray painted on it it in blue and red and photos of Jones affixed underneath.

In the post, Henley claimed that two sheriff’s deputies had “threatened to arrest” her earlier that day when she arrived at the scene of her sister-in-law’s death to place flowers in front of the memorial “for refusing to allow them to take my lawfully holstered, concealed firearm without probable cause.” The Yalobusha County sheriff’s department did not respond to a request for comment today.

“I know the law, and I also know how quick people disappear down here. I’m not going down like that,” Henley wrote in a subsequent comment on April 6 post. “I’ve known Michelle since she was 9 years old. She was truly like my little sister. I will not give up on her. We will find out who did this, with or without help from Yalobusha County. She’s not the first to die like this down there, but I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure she’s the last. Her death will not be in vain.”

A makeshift billboard includes the words "I WAS MURDERED" and photos of Kristina Michelle Jones
On April 6, Ashley Henley posted this photo on her Facebook page showing a makeshift billboard that included photos of her dead sister-in-law, Kristina Michelle Jones, and the words, “I WAS MURDERED.” Photo credit: Ashley Henley/Facebook

On May 24, Ashley Henley posted an update on the investigation into her sister’s death with a photo of a certificate listing Jones’ “immediate cause” of death as “unknown.” Under the section that lists whether a death is an “accident, suicide, homicide, pending investigation, or undetermined,” the certificate reads, “Undetermined.” The certificate indicates that the case was referred to the state medical examiner.

“ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE – My family waited 5 months for this?! … To those Granted #PublicTrust and Responsibility for Ensuring #Justice For All – You may think this is over and your job is done, but you are mistaken,” Ashley Henley wrote in the May 24 post. “This is only the beginning. I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.”

The certificate Henley posted indicates that Jones’ case was referred to the state medical examiner’s office. County coroners have complained in recent years that lawmakers have underfunded the state crime lab, holding up some murder investigations for years. Winston County Coroner Scott Gregory told WLBT last November that he had cases dating back to 2014 due to the backlog at the state crime lab. It is unclear whether the delay in determining Jones’ cause of death is related to backlogging, however.

‘Heartbroken And Angry’

Russell Latino, the president of Empower Mississippi, offered his condolences in a Facebook post this afternoon.

“Saddened to hear about the passing of former Desoto County Representative Ashley Henley. She was someone who very much wanted to make a positive difference in the world. Tragic circumstances,” he wrote.

Mississippi House Rep. Dan Eubanks, a DeSoto County Republican who served alongside Henley during her tenure, also shared his thoughts on Facebook this afternoon.

Dan Eubanks poses for a photo with Ashley Henley
“I am completely heartbroken and angry today. I found out that my dear friend and colleague, former Desoto County Representative Ashley Henley, was murdered yesterday,” Rep. Dan Eubanks, a DeSoto lawmaker, wrote on Facebook on June 14, 2021. Photo courtesy Rep. Dan Eubanks

“I am completely heartbroken and angry today. I found out that my dear friend and colleague, former Desoto County Representative Ashley Henley, was murdered yesterday,” he wrote. “What an absolute loss to our state, county, me personally, and most importantly her dear family. Please pray for her husband and son and their extended family….and that God’s justice will be served on those responsible.”

In a statement, the DeSoto County Republican Party described Henley as “a dedicated public servant,” noting that she worked as an educator before seeking office.

“We join with other groups and elected officials in calling on our state law enforcement agencies to immediately conduct a thorough investigation into Ashley’s passing to ensure justice is properly served,” the party said.

Henley ran for re-election to House District 40, which includes parts of Horn Lake and Southaven, in 2019, but lost by 14 votes to Hester Jackson-McCray. Henley unsuccessfully challenged the election results.

Rep. Jackson-McCray spoke out about Henley’s death in a statement to the Crirec this afternoon.

“I was shocked when Speaker Gunn told me that former H40 Rep. Ashley Henley has been murdered. On behalf of the community of Horn Lake and Southaven, we send her friends and family our deepest condolences,” Henley’s successor said. “I hope the local law enforcement gets to the bottom of what is happening there.

On May 17, Henley posted a selfie in celebration of her 40th birthday.

“All our grandmas were right,” she wrote. “Life goes by in the blink of an eye.”

This story has been updated to note comments by Brandon Henley, Russ Latino and Rep. Dan Eubanks.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Kristina Michelle Jones “burned to death” in a trailer fire in December. Though Jones’ body was found in the remains of a trailer following a fire on Dec. 26, 2020, officials have not determined the cause of her death.

Award-winning News Editor Ashton Pittman, a native of the South Mississippi Pine Belt, studied journalism and political science at the University of Southern Mississippi. Previously the state reporter at the Jackson Free Press, he drove national headlines and conversations with award-winning reporting about segregation academies. He has won numerous awards, including Outstanding New Journalist in the South, for his work covering immigration raids, abortion battles and even former Gov. Phil Bryant’s unusual work with “The Bad Boys of Brexit" at the Jackson Free Press. In 2021, as a Crirec reporter, he was named the Diamond Journalist of the Year for seven southern U.S. states in the Society of Professional Journalists Diamond Awards. A trained photojournalist, Ashton lives in South Mississippi with his husband, William, and their two pit bulls, Dorothy and Dru. Follow on Twitter @ashtonpittman. Send tips to [email protected].