Days after 26-year-old Ashley Kaney and her 8-year-old daughter, Riley Burdick, were found dead in their beds at their Sangaree home, friends of the slain woman had a common question on their minds: Why?
Berkeley County investigators have called the deaths an isolated case of domestic violence, but they’ve said nothing about a motive for why young Riley was strangled and her mother killed in a separate bedroom in their Kershaw Road home. Just how Kaney died remains a mystery as well as the county coroner’s office conducts further tests.
At the center of the case is Kaney’s boyfriend, Jacob Philip, a 22-year-old sailor from Virginia Beach, Va., who has been charged with two counts of murder in connection with the deaths.
Philip reportedly confessed to the killings after Virginia Beach police picked him up late Tuesday, confirming the worst fears of Kaney’s friends. They said it was no secret that she loved Philip, but her friends had reservations about his temper and aggressive nature.
As recently as Sept. 27, Kaney spoke glowingly of her relationship in a Facebook post.
“Great date night! Nothing beats quality time with the one you love. — with Jacob Philip,” the post stated.
She was found dead in her home four days later.
The Aiken native met her alleged killer at The Dive Bar and Grill at Joint Base Charleston, and the pair partook in an on-again, off-again relationship that lasted about seven months, according to one of Kaney’s friends, Rebecca Stone, 32.
Though passionate, Stone said Kaney confided that her relationship with Philip was tinged with darker elements that often perplexed her.
Stone said Philip was a “beast of a man” who had a short fuse that was ignited only when he consumed alcohol.
Virginia Beach police said Philip is 6 feet tall and weighs about 225 pounds.
By contrast, Kaney was about 5 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed about 140 pounds, Stone said.
“He has gotten physical with her in the past. He has such a short temper. He’s just a controlling person. ... He was just aggressive. That was just in his demeanor,” Stone said. “I tried to talk her out of staying with him, but she loved him. She wasn’t ready to let go.”
Stone, who lives in Aiken, said she celebrated her birthday last month by visiting Kaney in Sangaree. While there, Stone said, she ended up consoling the woman after Philip admitted cheating on her.
“He had expressed to her that he hated kids and he didn’t want to be around her daughter. Then, he went out and cheated on her,” Stone said.
Kaney asked Philip to move out of their home, according to Stone, but he snubbed the request. His refusal was eventually met with reconciliation, she said.
“He turned around and said he was sorry and he was going to make things right,” Stone said. “She told me she might be making a mistake by staying with him, but she loved him. When you love someone, you’re going to do what’s in your heart.”
My Sister’s House Executive Director Elmire Raven said repeated apologies and claims that violent acts will never happen again are common occurrences in the cycle that is domestic violence.
My Sister’s House is a nonprofit organization that provides free services and resources to empower the victims of domestic violence and their children.
“The signs are always there, whether that’s controlling behavior, jealousy, abusive behavior — the signs are always there,” Raven said. “However, that love and affection and attachment are also there. As human beings we always want to hope that things will get better. If you love someone you want to hope that things will get better.”
In Kaney’s case, things didn’t get better.
Stone said her biggest fear became a reality when she learned of Kaney’s death.
“She was my best friend — my only friend. She was like family to me. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t think. It’s just overwhelming,” Stone said.
For the moment, Philip remains in Virginia Beach, where police stopped him Tuesday after he was spotted in a parking lot in a vehicle that had been stolen earlier in the evening, authorities said. He is charged with grand larceny in connection with that vehicle, police said.
Virginia Beach police Sgt. Adam Bernstein said authorities also are investigating possible ties between Philip and a hit-and-run wreck that occurred in that area before his arrest.
Philip is a Petty Officer 3rd Class in the U.S. Navy and a student with the elite Naval Nuclear Power Training Unit in Goose Creek, according to the unit’s executive officer, Lt. Commander Victor Garza.
According to its website, the unit’s mission is to provide training for enlisted personnel in the operation, maintenance and supervision of Naval nuclear propulsion plants.
Garza on Thursday did not respond to questions about the unit’s requirements to become a student, what Philip was studying at the nuclear school and what his specific assignment was to be when he completed his training. How the military will deal with his arrest also wasn’t clear.
As questions swirl around the killings, family, friends and neighbors continue to grieve.
“It’s hard for me,” Lisa Thomas, who lived next door to Kaney and Riley, said as she fought back tears. “Every day when she got off the school bus I could see her skipping, just skipping with her little book bag on her back.”
One of Kaney’s friends, 30-year-old Amy Holmes of Aiken, said she worried that those who didn’t know Kaney would judge her out of speculation that she didn’t do enough to save her daughter by choosing to stay with Philip.
“I can promise you at any moment if Ashley thought her life and her daughter’s life were in danger she would have not been with him.
“You never see this kind of thing coming. There’s nothing that any one could have done different.”
“None of these people knew that there was a monster among us. Evil has several different faces. Unfortunately, tragically, his face was one of those faces,” Holmes said.
Dave Munday contributed to this story. Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/ celmorePC.