When Ashley Smith was 14 months old, her mother, Melissa Wright, placed her in an oven set to 600 degrees. Smith, who is now 15, received third-degree burns and underwent 28 agonizing reconstructive surgeries. But incredibly, the rising high school freshman from the small town of Prattville, Alabama, has found it in her heart to forgive Wright for the horrific act that took place in 2002.
“I had a woman that would come into my room at the children’s hospital and she would talk to me and play with me before I went to sleep,” Smith tells Us Weekly. “She would say, ‘Forgive, forget and move on … Don’t let it hold you back.’”
If Wright feels remorse, that is news to Smith, who has been raised by her loving aunt Rhonda and uncle Tommy Zaffina. The teen says Wright has never once reached out to apologize. “Not that I know of,” Smith tells Us. “But I wouldn’t want her to.”
Wright pleaded guilty to attempted murder in 2003 and was sentenced to 25 years in jail. She was denied early release on July 26, at a hearing that was attended by both Smith and her sister, Courtney Brunson. But the girls — who were once inseparable — stood on opposite sides. While Smith pleaded with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles to keep Wright locked up, Brunson, 21, argued that Wright is no longer a danger to society.
“I went to visit her multiple times,” Brunson said, per the Montgomery Advertiser. “She went through classes for mental health. She has been through child-abuse classes. She has actually got the help she needs. She is on the right medication to help her with her mental illness. I feel like she has changed. When I go visit her, I can actually see the difference in her.”
Smith tells Us she hasn’t spoken to Brunson since that day. “She made her choice, I made mine,” she says.
Meanwhile, Smith — who started high school on Wednesday, August 10 — is focusing on her future. Says the survivor: “I want to be a surgeon at a children’s hospital.”
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