Blog of Rights

Jessica Lenahan

A Mother Who Won't Be Denied Truth and Justice

By Sarah Spears, Program Fellow, ACLU of Colorado & John Krieger, Communications and Outreach Director, ACLU of Colorado at 2:21pm

In the wake of horrible tragedy, solace is often found in knowing that the truth will be sought, and justice will be delivered.

For the last 15 years, Jessica Lenahan, who lost her three daughters in a domestic violence incident, has been denied the truth about what really happened to her children and, therefore, the justice that she and all victims rightly deserve.

In June 1999, Rebecca, Katheryn, and Leslie Gonzales were kidnapped by their father, Simon Gonzales, and discovered dead in his vehicle after a shootout with law enforcement at the Castle Rock, Colorado, police station. For nearly 10 hours beforehand, Jessica repeatedly called the police to tell them her children were in danger, but they refused to enforce the restraining order against her estranged husband.

While law enforcement concluded that Simon had killed the girls before arriving at the police station, a proper investigation into the circumstances of the girls' deaths was never completed. To this day, Jessica doesn't know who killed her children: her estranged husband, the police, or someone else. Law enforcement's failure to investigate the girls' deaths not only leaves Jessica and her family in an unimaginable cloud of uncertainty, but it casts doubt in the minds of all citizens as to how such critical questions can fall through the cracks unanswered.

Through the years, despite the immense personal loss that she suffered and the unacceptable lack of answers provided to her by the state of Colorado, Jessica has become a renowned advocate for the rights of domestic violence victims.

In 2011, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a landmark decision in her case that calls on federal, state, and local governments to strengthen their responses to domestic violence in the United States, while specifically calling for an investigation into the circumstances of Jessica's case. With the support of the University of Miami Law School Human Rights Clinic, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, and the ACLU, Jessica is now seeking to implement the commission's decision.

Last week, Jessica's personal courage and 15 years of advocacy were recognized, as the Colorado legislature honored her with a formal tribute on the last day of the legislative session.

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While the legislature's recognition was certainly earned, what Jessica deserves is truth and justice. That's why the ACLU of Colorado is calling for a renewed commitment from the state to provide the answers it failed to seek in 1999. It is critical for society to have confidence in law enforcement to conduct thorough and proper investigations, each and every time the need arises. The state of Colorado has the opportunity and the responsibility to determine the exact sequence of events which led to the deaths of Rebecca, Katheryn, and Leslie Gonzales.

We call on Colorado to finally conduct the investigation Jessica, her family, and the people of Colorado all deserve.

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