On April 8, 2011, Des Moines realtor Jen Stanbrough was showing houses like any other day when her phone began to flash repeatedly with calls and texts — but, still in work mode, she waited to answer.
When she finally did, she expected to hear something had gone wrong with a closing. Instead, a fellow realtor told her that her close friend, Ashley Okland, had been shot twice at her open house in West Des Moines and pronounced dead at the hospital.
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"I wasn't even in my right mind," Stanbrough told Axios, recalling that period. "It felt like a nightmare that you were living day after day after day."
Why it matters: 10 years later, no suspects have been named in Okland's murder, but Stanbrough has worked locally and nationally to create and share best realtor safety practices — something that wasn't typically taught before Okland's death.
Stanbrough said that she didn't give much thought for a long time to the potential dangers in her work — meeting strangers in vacant houses, parking in ways that allowed her to be blocked in and walking first into basements.
The state of play: Stanbrough helped create a pledge for realtors — the first of its kind nationwide — saying they will not show any home to a stranger without first meeting them at a public space and asking for identification.
She's also working to develop a realtor safety training course that includes best practices such as location and schedule sharing, awareness of phone service availability and knowledge of where exits are located in a home.
The big picture: Des Moines' local realtor association adopted safety practices after Okland's death and there's been more awareness nationally surrounding the issue in recent years — especially as more realtors have been killed since Okland, Stanbrough said.
The bottom line: Nothing is foolproof, according to Stanbrough, but she hopes these tools will allow realtors to come home safe.
"I can't bring my friend back. The pain will never go away — but I've tried to find a way to honor her and find a purpose."
Polk County Crime Stoppers is offering a $150,000 reward for anyone with information leading to an arrest in Okland's death. If you have tips, reach out here or call 515 223-1400.
This story first appeared in the Axios Des Moines newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.
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