15 Shots Killed Shelby Allen
What's perhaps more shocking is that the 17-year-old drank them at a friend's house, while the parents were home. Here, how her mom is fighting to make sure no other child dies this way
By Andrea Todd
It was the first night of Christmas vacation 2008 - one of the biggest teen party nights of the year. Seventeen-year-old Shelby Allen, an athlete, honors student, and avid shopper, begged for her older sister Tera's permission to borrow her VW Beetle for the occasion; she even offered to "detail" it. "I told Tera it sounded like a pretty good deal to me," Debbie Allen, the girls' mom, remembers with a smile. Debbie had no qualms about giving her daughter permission to head out and spend the night at her best friend Alyssa's house. "We knew Alyssa; we knew her parents," explains the soft-spoken 55-year-old mom.
Though Debbie's manner may be unassuming, she's always been known as one of the stricter parents in her neighborhood, thanks to her tough-as-nails career in law enforcement. At 21, she was a correctional officer in a men's state prison; 10 years later, she worked as a bodyguard for California's governor and his family before leaving the capital to raise her family in rural Redding, CA. "A safe place to raise kids," say Debbie and her husband, Steve, of the area, known for its lakes, caverns, hills, and fields with grazing horses.
It's a place with a small-town vibe, where a teenage girl won't get away with much, especially if everyone knows her mom is a former cop and her dad is a labor rep for most of the public employees who live there.
"Shelby had been busted [for trying to drink] before; her mom caught her on her way to a beer-pong party," says Alyssa. Shelby disappeared from the social scene for about a month after that: Debbie grounded her younger daughter and afterward kept a watchful eye on her, always checking where she was going and whom she'd be with.
"The second I knew I was going to be a mother, my whole life changed," explains Debbie. "Everything I did from that point on was with my children in mind, my kids coming first. I wanted to give them all the precious love I felt for them, and when they became teens, that meant being a vigilant mom, one who kept things safe."
Despite Debbie's efforts, Shelby continued to sneak around a bit, Alyssa admits, but "she wasn't this wild party girl. Shelby partied like most of us did. She didn't stand out as a troubled or moody kid.
She was curious about alcohol - curious about how much she could drink until she passed out, just like many other teens. You just drink until you're out, and then you sleep it off." Alyssa pauses, then adds, "Shelby was full of energy and curiosity; her motto was 'Dig life!' We all just wanted to have as much fun as we could - and to see how much we could get away with."