15 Shots of Vodka Killed Our Daughter

Teens most likely to drink during holidays, experts say
November 28, 2016
UNDERAGE DRINKING IS COMMON DURING THE HOLIDAY SEASON
November 29, 2016

It was the first night of Christmas vacation 2008 — one of the biggest teen party nights of the year. Seventeen-year-old Shelby Allen, an athlete, honors student, and avid shopper, begged for her older sister Tera’s permission to borrow her VW Beetle for the occasion; she even offered to “detail” it.

“I told Tera it sounded like a pretty good deal to me,” Debbie Allen, the girls’ mom, remembers with a smile. Debbie had no qualms about giving her daughter permission to head out and spend the night at her best friend Alyssa’s house. “We knew Alyssa; we knew her parents,” explains the soft-spoken 55-year-old mom.

Though Debbie’s manner may be unassuming, she’s always been known as one of the stricter parents in her neighborhood, thanks to her tough-as-nails career in law enforcement. At 21, she was a correctional officer in a men’s state prison; 10 years later, she worked as a bodyguard for California’s governor and his family before leaving the capital to raise her family in rural Redding, California. “A safe place to raise kids,” say Debbie and her husband, Steve, of the area, known for its lakes, caverns, hills, and fields with grazing horses.

It’s a place with a small-town vibe, where a teenage girl won’t get away with much, especially if everyone knows her mom is a former cop and her dad is a labor rep for most of the public employees who live there.

“Shelby had been busted [for trying to drink] before; her mom caught her on her way to a beer-pong party,” says Alyssa. Shelby disappeared from the social scene for about a month after that: Debbie grounded her younger daughter and afterward kept a watchful eye on her, always checking where she was going and whom she’d be with.

“The second I knew I was going to be a mother, my whole life changed,” explains Debbie. “Everything I did from that point on was with my children in mind, my kids coming first. I wanted to give them all the precious love I felt for them, and when they became teens, that meant being a vigilant mom, one who kept things safe.”

Despite Debbie’s efforts, Shelby continued to sneak around a bit, Alyssa admits, but “she wasn’t this wild party girl. Shelby partied like most of us did. She didn’t stand out as a troubled or moody kid. She was curious about alcohol — curious about how much she could drink until she passed out, just like many other teens. You just drink until you’re out, and then you sleep it off.” Alyssa pauses, then adds, “Shelby was full of energy and curiosity; her motto was ‘Dig life!’ We all just wanted to have as much fun as we could — and to see how much we could get away with.”

On that December night, after stopping for tacos, Shelby got a call on her cell from another pal, Jane (not her real name), who invited Alyssa and Shelby over to her house. Both of her older sisters were home, Jane explained, and she let the two girls know that she was drinking and everyone else was, too, says Alyssa.

By the time Shelby and Alyssa arrived, after midnight, the family had been drinking together, Jane included. Shelby chronicled the night on her cell phone: “Just family. It’s nice though. Nothing like a [family’s last name omitted] party.)” she texted to a friend. She also snapped a photo of the full bar at the house (You can see her in the mirror, taking the picture), and there’s another photo from that night of Shelby, casually dressed in a T-shirt, her blond hair loose, with Jane’s father partly visible. His arm is around her slim shoulders, and the two are smiling widely. The holiday vacation had begun.

A Final Party

According to statements to the police, Jane’s parents and her older sisters headed upstairs to bed around 1:00 a.m. Before retiring, Jane’s father admonished the guests not to drink. (He later explained to police that he was concerned the girls were thinking of drinking, and he felt compelled to tell them not to.) He then left them seated around the open bar.

That was when the drinking really got under way. Shelby’s drink of choice was vodka, and her goal that night was to down 15 shots of it. “I honestly don’t know why she got that number in her head,” says Alyssa. “Maybe she saw someone do it at a party. Shelby was an athlete [she played volleyball and was on the cross-country track team]; she had a competitive spirit. We all told her it was a bad idea, but she was determined to make that her goal.” She started downing the shots at 1:08 a.m. When the first bottle of vodka ran dry, the girls found more. Shelby took a photo of the second frosted bottle and then tracked her progress in texts to friends.

Shelby’s drink of choice was vodka, and her goal that night was to down 15 shots of it. She started downing the shots at 1:08 a.m. When the first bottle of vodka ran dry, the girls found more.

A half-hour later, the 5-foot-6-inch, 107-pound girl had consumed 10 shots. “Slow down. You’ll get sick,” a classmate texted her back.

Shelby’s messages got sloppier and sloppier until she sent her final texts of the evening, announcing that she’d reached her goal at 1:58 a.m.

When Shelby began to feel sick, Jane led her to the nearest bathroom to vomit. When Shelby seemed to pass out, she was propped against the toilet for the night. Her young pal then left to be with Alyssa, who at this point was also sick from drinking, and periodically checked on Shelby. Clearly, this party had gone out of control.

About an hour and a half later, Shelby’s phone fired up again. But this time it was Jane who was texting a boy — a friend of Shelby’s — whom she supposedly had a crush on.

“She wont sober up at all,” Jane’s texts read. “im freaking out have no ide wat to do,” “shelb is out [boy’s name omitted] I f______ neeed hellp…” and “shelb is just half snoring shaking. I neeed you so dab right now.” The boy offered to come over but said he’d have to tell his father first. He could write a note and leave, Jane suggested, and when he rejected this idea, she eventually dropped the matter. The boy sent one last text — “Feel better Shelby:)” — later in the morning.

Around 8:00 a.m., the father of the house, a prominent area veterinarian, was preparing to open the medical office on his property to treat the day’s first clients. Intercepted by his daughter, who had been up most of this time, he asked about the previous night. “Shelby’s not feeling well,” Jane reported, but she apparently sounded no alarm.

It wasn’t until Alyssa awoke around one hour later that anyone took notice of Shelby’s condition. She went to check on her and was horrified by what she found: Shelby was still slumped in the downstairs bathroom, completely motionless. Her head hung over the edge of the toilet bowl, her lip split from having slammed against the porcelain in a bout of violent heaving. Pulling Shelby up, Alyssa saw her friend’s face streaked in blood. She tried to rouse her, but Shelby remained unresponsive. An older sister was summoned and phoned her father. He quickly returned to the house and dialed 911 to have an ambulance sent to his home right away because he’d found “a child that’s here, and I don’t think she’s breathing.” When asked if he was sure she wasn’t breathing, he responded, “I can’t … I’m not sure she’s alive right now.”

Dispatchers instructed him on how to perform CPR, urging him to continue until medical help arrived. The EMTs who arrived on the scene found a weak pulse, but were unable to revive the girl. Shelby Allen was pronounced dead at 9:40 on the morning of December 20. Her blood-alcohol content was 0.33, four times the legal driving limit for adults in California.

Searching for Answers

The Allens entered a disturbing parallel universe from that moment on. In 1987, Debbie and Steve had lost a baby to sudden infant death syndrome; they had never imagined they would have to grieve like that again. “That fear was always with me,” says Debbie. “Shortly before I lost Shelby, we watched Steel Magnolias together; Shelby, the daughter, dies in the movie, and I remember thinking as I watched my dear girl next to me, How could I be without her? I told my Shelby, ‘Don’t ever leave this world before I do; I couldn’t take it again.’ We sat there sobbing together, and she said, ‘Mom, don’t worry; I won’t!'”

Debbie and Steve slept in Shelby’s bed the night she died, in an effort to feel closer to her spirit. After that, Steve couldn’t go into his younger daughter’s room for months. “The house was just a dead house,” Debbie says. “I don’t know how else to describe it. And I was left to deal with the worst kind of anguish: that I wasn’t able to comfort my baby when her body was dying. I didn’t get to hug her, kiss her, hold her, keep her warm … how could this be true?”

Overwhelmed by misery, the Allens struggled to make sense of what had happened. “We second-guessed everything we did that day. If only we had said she couldn’t spend the night at Alyssa’s house. If only we had banned sleepovers altogether,” Steve says. “If only Debbie had taken her shopping in Sacramento that day, as originally planned. If only we had checked up on her, as we had in the past … if only we had known more about alcohol poisoning and binge drinking so we could have educated her … all these things go through our minds, to this day.”

Wondering how a night at a friend’s house, with parents present, could have gone so terribly wrong, Steve thought to check his daughter’s cell phone for clues. The palm-size gadget, complete with incriminating texts sent to high-school pals and photos snapped, provided a heartbreaking but detailed record of what had happened that night.

It also raised some troubling questions: Why hadn’t the parents intervened when Shelby was drinking so many shots? Why had no one called the Allens to report Shelby’s behavior, so they could come get her? With adults in the home (the parents and two older daughters, plus their friends), why had no one tried to help the Allens’ daughter when it had become clear she was in trouble?

“When we asked the family for details, we were met with a wall of silence,” Debbie remembers.

The Allens handed the cell phone over to investigators. “We realized the only way we were going to get our questions answered was to go to law enforcement,” says Debbie.

When I first saw the photos of Shelby’s body, I thought she had been strangled. There was a massive bruise on her neck from the hours leaning against the toilet rim. There was blood all over her face.

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Source: Good Housekeeping

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