Ashley Hernandez, a Capital High School graduate who joined the U.S. Army in 2018, died in a shooting at an apartment in Olympia, Wash., on Sunday.
Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said by phone Wednesday the 19-year-old was killed by a gunshot to the head, but it’s unclear if she took her own life or if her boyfriend, Damien Martinez, shot her before killing himself with a gunshot wound to the chest.
Lt. Ray Brady of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Department in Washington said police think it’s possible Hernandez took her own life before Martinez did the same with a Glock .380-caliber handgun.
What led up to the shootings is unclear, though Brady said there was evidence to suggest the couple had been embroiled in a domestic dispute beforehand.
Hernandez’s mother, Mariah Valdez, said none of it makes sense to her. She said her daughter was a lively, vibrant woman who planned to become a doctor and had just signed up to take some online courses to meet that goal.
“She had a perseverance that was unbeatable,” Valdez said of her daughter. “I want people to remember her smiling, upbeat attitude.”
She said her daughter was enjoying Army life and liked the people with whom she was working. She prided herself on making chile and telling her military friends, “New Mexico has the best damn chile in the world,” Valdez said.
Both Hernandez and Martinez were serving with the U.S. Army at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, about nine miles south of Tacoma, Wash. Hernandez lived in barracks on the base, Brady said.
Brady said Martinez called 911 from his apartment around 5:07 a.m. Sunday to say his girlfriend had shot herself. When police arrived on the scene four or five minutes later, they found the couple on the bed with gunshot wounds. Martinez was dead but Hernandez was still alive.
She died shortly after being transported to a local hospital, Brady said.
Hernandez, who was born in Taos and raised in Santa Fe, was the first New Mexico woman to be accepted for consideration into the U.S. Army Rangers, an elite combat outfit that has been deployed to wars from Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan. In a 2018 interview, she told The New Mexican her goal was to be a combat medic.
Though Hernandez did not complete Ranger school, her mother said she still was determined to be in the medical field.
Hernandez served as a health care specialist with the 7th Infantry Division at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, division spokesman Lt. Col. Roger Cabiness said. He said she had been stationed at the base since May.
Martinez, a sergeant, was an emergency care technician at the base, Cabiness said.
Brady said police determined Hernandez and Martinez had been dating “for a while.”
Hernandez ran track and was a cheerleader at Capital High, where she enrolled in the school’s medical careers pathway programs to study various aspects of health care.
She said in the 2018 interview she was inspired to join the military after her maternal grandfather, John Sheffield, acquired hepatitis C from a bad blood transfusion and had to be hospitalized for three months.
“He wasn’t going to live to see Christmas,” Hernandez said at the time. But on Sheffield’s birthday in November, he received a liver transplant that saved his life.
“I spent three months in the hospital with my grandpa and it changed the way I looked at hospitals,” Hernandez said. “Seeing the doctors, the nurses, working to save someone’s life — I thought, ‘I would love to be able to make a change for someone like my grandpa.’ ”
Valdez said she plans to hold a memorial service for her daughter at Santa Fe National Cemetery, though she has not yet chosen a date or time.
She said she always called her daughter “my little bug.”
And now, she said, “my little bug is up there with the angels.”
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