WORCESTER, Mass. — Amanda Dabrowski did everything she could to protect herself. Her murder underscores the challenges facing victims of domestic violence.
25 Investigates has examined the murder of Amanda Dabrowski for months, uncovering a series of troubling incidents in the final year of her life.
A brief romance takes a violent turn. The alleged attacker gone. She did everything she could to protect herself and it still wasn’t enough.
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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE RESOURCES
Amanda Dabrowski had a bright future.
In late 2018, the 31-year-old Webster, Massachusetts native got a new job and an apartment of her own.
When Amanda turned 30, she had everything going for her. She spent some years away from home between college at Northeastern University and a job in Florida.
In August 2018 she moved back home to Massachusetts. By October, she landed a new job and two months later, got her own apartment in Ayer.
Second only to her family and her dog, Gus, was Amanda’s love of food and wine. The Glorious Grape blog was where her foodie passions came to life.
“She was on cloud nine,” Beth Dabrowski recalled. “She was on top of the world, she was ecstatic.”
By the end of 2018, she met a man named Carlos Asensio.
Amanda and Carlos both worked at Bristol Myers Squibb, a pharmaceutical company in Devens, Massachusetts.
Amanda was a biologist. Carlos was a software engineer.
“She mentioned in the beginning she wanted to try something different with someone she wouldn’t normally go for,” Amanda’s sister, Victoria, said.
Victoria said Carlos pursued Amanda and the two began dating.
“He was just very, very clingy,” Victoria said. “Anytime I was over there, he was there. He wouldn’t leave when she wanted him to.”
Amanda broke up with Carlos after a couple of months.
“It wasn’t clicking,” her mother, Beth, said. “She didn’t have good feelings. And she just said, ‘I need to take care of me first.’… he did not take that well at all.”
Police reports detail some incidents of harassment -- including ones at work.
On April 16, 2019, Carlos booked a conference room and requested a meeting with her. During that meeting he asked to have “one more time with her alone and do the things they used to do.”
Amanda claimed Carlos pulled out an envelope of cash out of his pocket and threw it on the table, accusing Amanda of having sex for money.
The harassment allegedly continued at work the next day.
The Dabrowski family says Amanda planned to report it all to her managers.
“She never had the opportunity,” Ed explained. “We got a call a little before 5 a.m. that Amanda was being transported to UMass Medical Center with non-life-threatening injuries…she was the victim of a home invasion.”
It was before dawn Easter Sunday morning on April 21, 2019. Amanda was asleep and said she heard noises coming from downstairs.
In the darkness, she went down the stairs.
She first noticed a bag with handcuffs inside.
“He hit her with a stun gun several times,” Beth said. “She does everything she can to defend herself.”
The police report says Amanda grabbed a bottle of wine and struck the intruder’s head. But he persisted.
He was on her back trying to pull her down and was strangling her. Amanda told police she was able to get to the kitchen, where she grabbed a knife and fought back.
The intruder pointed a gun at her and directed her to get on her knees, but she fought back again and eventually shoved him out of a window.
“She ran upstairs, checked under the bed for her phone, grabbed her dog, grabbed her keys, got in the car and drove to Ayer police,” Beth said.
At the police station, records show Amanda told police her attacker was her ex-boyfriend and co-worker Carlos Asencio.
The intruder was masked, but she told investigators she recognized certain distinct features and could see strands of long hair.
It was then she told investigators about the workplace harassment.
She said Carlos told her, “his biggest failure in life was not being able to maintain the relationship with her.”
Amanda was hospitalized, bloodied and bruised. Her right hand was mangled from the fight.
But she survived.
“She said, ‘Dad, I fought him off.’ She was so proud of that,” Ed recalled.
Her family said Carlos didn’t show up to work Monday.
“By then, Asencio had already fled the country,” Ed said.
Police records show investigators tracked Asencio's cell phone the day of the attack. They say that morning, he left Ayer and headed north.
Investigators say the trail led them 49 miles north to Bow, New Hampshire. It was along Interstate 93 police found a duffel bag. In it, they found duct tape, handcuffs, ammunition, knives and Amanda’s cell phone.
The border crossing in Derby Line, Vermont is relatively quiet. Few lanes of traffic lead into and out of Canada.
Nonetheless, something about Carlos's arrival stood out to the first Canadian Border Patrol officer he encountered. When Asencio reached the border, records show he went through two rounds of questioning.
Sources say he appeared disheveled and that he was found in possession of a bullet-proof vest. Ultimately, Canadian border agents let him through. He continued to the Montreal airport where he boarded a flight to Cancun, Mexico.
Carlos, a U.S. citizen, was out of the country within about four and half hours of the attack.
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A WARRANT ISSUED
Four days later, investigators in Middlesex County issued a warrant for his arrest for the attempted murder of Amanda Dabrowski.
With Carlos on the run, Amanda’s life would have to change. She immediately left her Ayer apartment and moved back home to Webster to start healing physically and emotionally.
“Even though all this was going on, she still had the brightest future ahead of her and always looked forward to everything,” her sister, Victoria, said.
Weeks passed and Amanda, with a brave face, carried on. The assumption was that Carlos remained in Mexico. In fact, the family says authorities had information that placed him in Cancun.
Amanda sought comfort in her hobbies, the wine and food blog, reading, spending time with her family, and her dog.
But she was left with nagging fears and suspicions.
Then, in May, she got a series of menacing emails.
“They were very threatening,” her father, Ed, said. “They were very direct. Basically, I’m coming for you. And nobody is safe, including your family.”
While walking through the neighborhood with her sister in June, Amanda spotted a drone overhead.
“That was the first thing out of her mouth, ‘what if that’s Carlos, what if he’s somehow watching me,’” Victoria recalled. “In the back of her mind…I think she knew that something was going to happen at some point.”
Amanda reported everything to police and did everything she could to protect herself.
On July 3rd, three months after the Easter Sunday attack, Amanda ventured out on her own for the first time. It was a book club meeting at a busy restaurant; a public place she thought she’d be safe. Amanda was meeting up with a new book club at O’Connor’s Restaurant in Worcester.
“I wish she had let me go with her,” Beth said.
Inside that crowded restaurant, violence erupted.
Allen Corson Jr. was out to dinner with his family when he heard a woman's cries for help. He says he saw a man on top of a woman, stabbing her over and over again.
“We heard the lady screaming,” Corson told Boston 25 News on July 3, 2019. “The screaming had turned to a screech.”
Corson said he grabbed the man and put him in a choke hold. Soon, other restaurant patrons and workers jumped in to help.
“We got one of the knives from him. He’s got this kitchen knife, all covered in blood,” Corson described. “The guy was just like, 'kill me.’"
Corson himself was stabbed during the struggle. Several witnesses held the attacker down until police arrived and arrested Carlos Asencio.
“So I watched my daughter walk out of our home to go to that restaurant only to get a call to go that restaurant…only to get a call…that it’s life threatening,” Beth said.
Amanda was rushed to UMass Memorial Medical Center. A trauma team did everything they could. But they couldn’t save her.
“He came out and said he was so sorry,” Beth recalled.
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A DISCUSSION OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ISSUES
On July 5th, at his arraignment for Amanda’s murder, a forensic psychologist testified Carlos was hearing voices.
“In recent months, [Asencio] had reported an increase in regards to anger and explosive episodes,” Dr. Stephanie Hansen said. “[He has] a long history of depression that has gone untreated and one attempted suicide in 2008.”
At a second hearing in July, the criminal case paused and Asencio began a 6-month mental health evaluation at Bridgewater State Hospital.
The attack in the restaurant still weighs heavily on those who witnessed it.
“She was a woman who was in the prime of her life,” Tim Murray said. “It’s something that comes to me and others I’m sure.”
Murray, the former Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, was also at O’Connor’s that night and was one of the people who jumped in to help.
“From day one upon what happened in Ayer, Amanda took proactive action,” Murray said. “Everything you are supposed to do, she did, and yet we have this tragic outcome."
SHE TRIED TO PROTECT HERSELF
On May 2, 2019 – just two months before she was killed -- Amanda appeared in court seeking a restraining order against Asencio following the violent Easter Sunday attack.
Amanda feared Carlos would return to hurt her again.
“I want to make it clear to the court that I feel as long as he is not in custody that there is an element of danger,” Amanda told the court that day. “I want to say I did everything in my power to protect myself."
Judge Margaret Guzman countered, “What is the point? … I don’t have a problem issuing an order. If it can’t be served, it’s unenforceable.”
“I want to do everything in my power to keep myself safe from this monster," Amanda told the judge.
Judge Guzman granted the restraining order though she initially questioned its enforceability given that Asencio was out of the country and could not be notified. She issued the order for 30 days and requested that it be added it to the Statewide Domestic Violence Record Keeping System, a database of individuals convicted of domestic violence-related crimes. That would have alerted state authorities to notify Dabrowski of Asencio’s return to Massachusetts.
In fear for her life, Amanda moved back to the safety of her parents’ home and reported suspicious activity like flying drones and threatening emails to police.
Yet despite the active warrant for his arrest, Carlos Asencio made his way back into the country undetected, and on the night of July 3 he tracked down Amanda at O’Connor’s.
Two days later, the family made a shocking discovery.
They found a cell phone duct taped to her car. Investigators believe Carlos used it to track Amanda’s every move.
“It was so calculated, premeditated and planned,” her father, Ed, said.
With Amanda’s ex-boyfriend and co-worker in custody and charged with her murder, her family wanted to know how the wanted man got back into the country undetected past federal and local authorities.
“Who let him out and who let him back in?” Beth asked.
They took those questions all the way to congress.
U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Worcester) says Canada maintains they did everything right. But he says the family deserves answers and assurances this would never happen to anyone else.
“They deserve straight answers,” McGovern said. “The system, which hopefully is designed to protect people, ultimately failed their daughter.”
In December, Amanda's family received an answer from the Department of Homeland Security. In a letter, the agency admits it has no idea when or where Carlos re-entered the U.S., so all they can assume is that he circumvented all ports of entry and crossed illegally.
That response left Amanda’s family feeling like she was failed by numerous systems.
25 Investigates’ Kerry Kavanaugh reviewed Amanda’s case with New England Law Boston professor Victor Hansen. He was not part of the investigation but agreed to examine it.
“[He] struck me as somebody who was determined to get after this victim in any way he could, and he probably wasn’t going to stop at anything,” Hansen said, adding that often times domestic violence cases are hampered by the lack of adequate resources.
“Police have limited resources. Law enforcement has limited resources….This would be a very difficult case to keep track of, once the individual has gone that far away from the jurisdiction,” he said.
WHY WAS SHE FIRED?
Amanda Dabrowski's story also highlights the hurdles victims of domestic violence can face on the job.
25 Investigates learned confrontations between Amanda and Carlos started at work.
Less than 48 hours after she was attacked the first time on Easter Sunday, Amanda was fired.
“Monday I called and contacted her boss,” Amanda’s mother, Beth, said. “[I told them] Amanda had been the victim of a home invasion that she would be out of work for a week.”
The day after the Easter Sunday attack, Beth called Amanda's employer, Bristol Meyers Squibb in Devens, Massachusetts, and informed them she had a doctor's note for her daughter’s injuries.
“It was, 'thank you, have her return her hard copy on her day back to work,’” she said.
Sources told 25 Investigates Bristol Myers Squibb knew right away about the attack and that both victim and the suspect were contract employees at the company.
On April 23, 2019, two days after the attack in her home, Amanda received an email notifying her she was terminated from her job “effective today.”
“Sunday was the attack, Monday the correspondence with work, Tuesday afternoon at 2:53 p.m. … she's been terminated from her job,” Beth said.
Wendy Murphy is an attorney and an advocate for domestic violence survivors who is working with the Dabrowski family.
“You should not be fired because you suffered the misfortune of somebody else's violence against you," Murphy said. “If you tell your employer that you've been victimized by domestic violence and two days later you get fired, I'd say there's a pretty good argument you got fired because you are a victim of domestic violence. The problem is, in Massachusetts, we don't have a law that specifically forbids that."
That’s particularly true if the worker is a contract employee like Amanda. She was hired at Bristol Myers Squibb through a third-party contractor, Columbia consulting.
Just three weeks before she was terminated fired, Columbia emailed Amanda informing her she had gotten a promotion.
IN HER NAME
Even after her death, the Dabrowski's pressed the Bristol Myers Squibb for an explanation about her sudden termination.
Last fall, they filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.
In it, they allege Bristol Myers Squibb discriminated against Amanda when they fired her, "knowing she was a female victim of domestic violence."
The family told 25 Investigates the company responded to their discrimination complaint in January with an alternative explanation. They claimed Amanda was fired due to time card fraud and that they received a complaint she was high on the job. They even acknowledged that complaint came from Carlos Asencio, the man accused of her murder.
25 Investigates asked Bristol Myers Squibb about Amanda's termination. In an emailed statement they said: “…we do not comment on individual personnel matters or on pending agency charges or litigation.” A spokeswoman added that the company follows all local, state and federal laws surrounding domestic violence and that Amanda's “contract ended effective April 21, 2019.”
“She is the victim. She is the one attacked -- attempted murder. But, we’re going to terminate her,” Amanda’s mother, Beth, said in disbelief.
The Dabrowski family is turning their grief into a fight for change in Amanda's name. They are fundraising and raising awareness about resources for survivors of domestic violence.
They are also working to change Massachusetts law to create better employment protections for survivors.
We have reached out to Carlos Asencio’s attorney and family in Derry, New Hampshire. The family has not commented, and his attorney would only say that he understands Amanda’s family is suffering and seeking justice.