Friends, family gather to remember social worker killed on Treme corner

Photo by Rochelle Gauthier -- Ashley Qualls
Photo by Rochelle Gauthier -- Ashley Qualls

It was the corner of Esplanade Avenue and North Roman Street where Ashley Qualls lost her life in an apparent random act of violence early Tuesday morning, and it was the same corner where her friends, colleagues and siblings gathered Wednesday to celebrate her, the woman who overcame a hardscrabble upbringing to earn a master’s degree from Tulane University while working three jobs.

Police have released few details about the shooting that left Qualls, 25, dead.

Friends said the shooting happened as she began her 3-mile walk home from her night shift at Odyssey House, a behavioral health center in the 1100 block of North Tonti Street in Treme where she was a social worker, to the tiny Prytania Street apartment in the Lower Garden District that she shared with her brother and sister.

As Qualls began that walk at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, she encountered the three men who would argue with her before taking her life, shooting her three times in the chest, police have said.

“Everybody is in awe,” said Alvin Hunt, who oversees the recovery support staff at Odyssey and hired Qualls about a month ago. “We couldn’t believe what had taken place, particularly to someone like her.”

Friends described Qualls as a spirited yet shy woman who overcame a childhood of poverty in Blythewood, S.C.

Rochelle Gauthier said some people back home told Qualls she would never amount to anything. But the woman who lost her mother as a teenager and was reared by grandparents would go on to earn a master’s degree in social work in December 2011 from the Tulane University School of Social Work, proving wrong those naysayers. She also made sure to bring her 23-year-old brother and 27-year-old sister to New Orleans to live with her as soon as she could.

Qualls’ upbringing likely molded her desire to help people.

“Her true determination and wanting so badly to change the world and reaching out to the disenfranchised — she knew what that felt like personally,” Gauthier said.

“That, coupled with the goodness that was inherent to her, absolutely contributed to that (desire),” said Tresha Eaglin, another friend.

Qualls did not have a car since she couldn’t afford one, so she walked to work, her friends said. It was just another example of her humility.

But she also had a fun side, friends said. She was known for her signature stilettos that she wore with anything — an evening gown or blue jeans. Still, she was shy, and often avoided any sort of attention, even to go so far as to literally duck out of pictures when they were snapped.

Though Qualls is now gone and no one knows why, what is known is that she made a difference, Hunt said. Even in a month her clients and colleagues grew to adore her, he said.

“Her goal was to give back and help other people. She certainly was a good model for her classmates in terms of her work and the mission of social work,” said Heather Gillis, director of field education at the Tulane School of Social Work.

Anyone with information about the crime is asked to call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.