He Got Custody of His Young Daughter, Then Fatally Shot Her

Angel Ahearn's grandmother is now slamming Tennessee's child services
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 9, 2022 9:53 AM CST
He Got Custody of His Young Daughter, Then Fatally Shot Her
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Michal Chodyra)

Six years ago, Angelique Ahearn's mother was killed in a Halloween car crash in Tennessee, and since the accident, her maternal grandmother, Monica Dunning, had fought for custody of the girl. Now Dunning is furious at the state's Department of Children's Services after Angel's father, who was granted custody instead, shot the preteen to death in October, per WBIR. According to a statement from the Barrow County Sheriff's Office in Georgia, deputies on Oct. 17 responded to a call about a potential domestic disturbance between Angel's father, 59-year-old Leonard Ahearn, and a woman believed to be his girlfriend, 34-year-old Rachel Hollifield.

When deputies arrived at the scene, they found Hollifield with gunshot wounds to her hands, an injured Ahearn, and the body of the preteen, who the sheriff's office says was 11 (Dunning says she'd just turned 12). Both Angel and her father also had gunshot wounds, per the sheriff's office. Hollifield and Ahearn were taken to a local hospital, where Ahearn died. Hollifield is recuperating after receiving treatment for her injuries. A subsequent investigation found that Hollifield and Ahearn had started arguing, at which point Ahearn first shot his daughter, then Hollifield, then himself.

Dunning is now lashing out Tennessee's DCS, telling 11Alive that after Angel's mother's death, the girl had initially been placed with child services because Ahearn had previously been abusive and there was a no-contact order in place. She says her daughter and Ahearn had been in the process of divorcing when her daughter was killed in the car crash. Dunning says that while she fought Ahearn for custody over the next few years, Angel was bounced around among eight to 10 foster homes—until Ahearn was eventually granted custody in May of last year.

"There was absolutely no reason why she couldn't have come here," Dunning says. "I passed all the the foster parenting classes and the background checks." She adds that after Ahearn was granted custody, he moved with Angel to Georgia, and that she didn't even know where her granddaughter was until she found out she'd been killed. In a statement to WBIR, Tennessee's DCS says that "the Court makes the final decision about child placement." The judge who made the ruling, meanwhile, isn't commenting. Tennessee Democratic Rep. Gloria Johnson says what happened is indicative of an understaffed, error-prone DCS. "It's just morally wrong," she tells the news outlet. "It's time to find the money to address this situation now." (Read more child custody stories.)

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