Alison Thresher, age 45, was last seen by her parents on the night of May 23, 2000. Her disappearance was reported to the Montgomery County Police Department by her sister on May 25, 2000, after her place of employment, the Washington Post, notified her family that Thresher had not been to work for two days (May 24 and May 25). Thresher, who resided in an apartment on Sangamore Road in Bethesda, left behind her twelve-year-old daughter Hannah and her ten-year-old son Sam.
Detectives began to investigate Alison’s disappearance as suspicious. Developments over the next eight months furthered the investigation and in February 2001, the Police Department announced that the missing person case was being investigated as a homicide. At the time, investigators were unable to develop a suspect based on available evidence.
During the past 18 years, Montgomery County Police Department cold case detectives have revisited the circumstances surrounding Thresher’s disappearance. Most recently, information and evidence that investigators have gathered point to the belief that Alison Thresher may have been murdered inside her apartment and that her body was moved to an unknown location (her body has not been located). Investigators also believe that Thresher’s vehicle was moved from her apartment complex and abandoned by the suspect(s) on Broad Street in the Brookmont neighborhood in Bethesda (about a mile from her residence). (See timeline information and photographs below). Based on recent forensic analysis of evidence that was gathered in Thresher’s apartment at the time of her disappearance, it appears that the suspect(s) attempted to destroy evidence at the scene. Today, with these developments and information gathered during the years of this investigation, the Police Department is naming a person of interest in the 2000 murder of Alison Thresher:
Fernando Asturizaga, now age 51, currently incarcerated
Fernando Asturizaga, at the time of Thresher’s disappearance, was 33 years old and lived in an apartment on Westchester Park Drive in College Park. Asturizaga was a Spanish teacher, soccer coach, after-school care provider, and summer camp employee at the Friends Community School in College Park. Both of Alison Thresher’s children, Hannah and Sam, attended the Friends Community School and Asturizaga was Hannah’s Spanish teacher.
In 2010, Hannah Thresher came forward to the Montgomery County Police Department and disclosed that Asturizaga had victimized her by becoming involved in an inappropriate and illegal sexual relationship with her from approximately 1999 to 2001, when he was a teacher and she was a student at the school. When the abuse began, Asturizaga was 32 years old and Hannah was ten years old. Special Victims Investigations Division detectives investigated the child abuse and Asturizaga was arrested and charged for the victimization of Hannah Thresher. He was charged with crimes to include multiple counts of second-degree rape, second-degree sexual offense, and child abuse. In 2012, Asturizaga was sentenced to well over 100 years for these crimes.
Montgomery County Police detectives have determined that during the time of the abuse, Alison Thresher had suspicions that her daughter was being victimized by Asturizaga and had notified the school, her ex-husband James Thresher, and Asturizaga of her concerns. She requested both of Asturizaga and the school that there be no contact between her daughter and him (see Alison Thresher’s letters and journal entries included at the end of this release).
At the time of his arrest, Asturizaga refused to speak to investigators about Alison Thresher’s disappearance. All leads in the homicide investigation had been exhausted.
At today’s press conference announcing Asturizaga as a person of interest in this homicide, Hannah Thresher made the following statement:
“I speak to you today in hopes that someone, somewhere, will see this story and remember something, anything, that will help us in the search to find justice for our mother, whose life was taken from her nearly 18 years ago, and whose body has never been located.
In a January New York Times article, Bindu Bansinath wrote that ‘to groom girls, you must erase mothers.’ This is what FA did – he erased our mother so that he could ensure his own freedom, and continued to abuse me, both sexually and emotionally, for yet another year, in addition to the two years that had already passed since the abuse began. She had grown suspicious of him, and knew that our relationship was far from appropriate, which she made known to both him and others. I denied it vehemently, as I had been groomed to do by FA.
Soon after she made her suspicions known, she disappeared. A few months later, when I expressed frustration at his lack of empathy towards my grief over the loss of my mother, FA said to me: ‘I thought things would be easier for us now that she’s gone.’ At the time I didn’t think anything of it. After 9 or 10 years of reflection I started to question if his words meant something more.
FA took nearly everything from me – 3 years of my life, my youth, my innocence, my happiness and optimism for the future- but like others who have suffered, I am resilient. For my mom, I need the whole truth to come out. Despite the trial that ensued when I came forward about his abuse, and the resulting 100-some years that he was sentenced to spend in prison, there are still questions to be answered.
So, if you have any information that may help in the search for justice for Alison Thresher, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, please contact the police. Just as I did, you may not have noticed it at the time. But now, looking back, it might be more meaningful.
Major Crimes Detectives are urging anyone with information about the murder of Alison Thresher to call the Unit at 240-773-5070. Those who wish to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers of Montgomery County toll-free at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477). Detectives are also asking anyone who believes that he/she has information regarding inappropriate contact or sexual victimization involving Asturizaga to call detectives.
Cold Case detectives have developed the below timeline of Alison Thresher’s disappearance to assist the public in recalling any information that might be pertinent to this case. Please note that this timeline is not exhaustive.
TIMELINE OF ALISON THRESHER’S DISAPPEARANCE DEVELOPED BY DETECTIVES:
April 28, 1999: Alison writes a letter to ASTURIZAGA imploring him to not have contact with daughter. (Read contents of letter below)
June 9, 1999: Alison writes a letter to Friends Community School voicing her concerns about ASTURIZAGA having an “inappropriate relationship” with her daughter. (Read contents of letter below)
July 1, 1999: Alison writes a letter to her attorney advising she has heard from other parents who are concerned about ASTURIZAGA’s relationship with their daughters.
January 2000: Alison calls ASTURIZAGA and again voices concerns about his relationship with her daughter Hannah. ASTURIZAGA continues to babysit Hannah while she is in the custody of her father.
February 2000: Alison and ASTURIZAGA become involved in an altercation outside of Alison’s ex-husband’s (Hannah’s father’s) home about ASTURIZAGA continuing to babysit Hannah.
March 18, 2000: From an entry in Alison’s journal; “Mad about my thoughts about F (Fernando). Stress that lines of demarc-he is a teacher. Many people have concerns about male babysitters-teenagers. Sometimes too stimulating for them.” (see journal entry below)
May 23, 2000:
8 p.m. Alison leaves her parents’ home after having dinner there.
10 p.m. Alison speaks with a friend on the phone.
11:51 p.m. Alison sends an email to a friend.
12:17 a.m. Alison sends an email to a friend.
May 24, 2000:
Sometime between 4:00-5:00 a.m. A neighbor of Alison’s hears cries coming from Alison’s apartment.
6:00 a.m. A suspicious male is seen running through the Brookmont neighborhood away from the area where Alison’s car would later be located. The physical description of the subject matches that of ASTURIZAGA.
7:00 a.m. Alison fails to report to work at the Washington Post. It is to be her first day at the job.
10:00 a.m. A resident of the Brookmont neighborhood observes a red Volvo station wagon – Alison’s vehicle – parked on Broad Street. (The resident does not realize the importance of this observation until Alison’s missing person case is made public).
May 25, 2000: Alison is reported missing to the Montgomery County Police Department by her sister. Her vehicle is recovered by officers on Broad Street in Bethesda.
LETTERS AND JOURNAL ENTRIES WRITTEN BY ALISON THRESHER
Letter from Alison Thresher to Fernando Asturizaga (April 28, 1999):
I write to you as someone who’s been a friend and great help to me and my family the last couple years. Several times over the last several months I have expressed my concern to you that my daughter, Hannah, has formed an excessive emotional bond with you. When I made it clear that I did not want the two of you to be alone together, you assured me that you would, in fact, no longer babysit for Hannah and Sam. That was not true. And this lead me to wonder whether this unnatural attachment is a mutual one. Frankly, I am disappointed. I would hope as an employee of an educational institution you would be more sensitive to these concerns. If you know of any reason that you cannot meet this requirement, please advise me at once.
Letter from Alison Thresher to Friends Community School (June 9, 1999):
This is to reiterate:
- I continue to be very concerned about the inappropriate relationship that Fernando ASTURIZAGA has allowed to continue between him and Hannah THRESHER.
- I will continue to actively withhold my permission for Hannah to attend Friends Community School in the 1999-2000 school year.
- I am not and will not be responsible for any financial obligation incurred by James THRESHER with Friends Community School.
- I will not bring Hannah to work at Friends Community School summer camps in 1999, because of Fernando ASTURIZAGA’s relationship with Hannah. I do not give my permission for James THRESHER to bring Hannah to work at Friends Community School summer camps. In addition, for an 11-year-old to be so employed is a violation of Maryland child labor laws.
I find it amazing and reckless that you, Friends Community School Board members and Fernando ASTURIZAGA would side with James THRESHER in a court battle in which he seeks to take Hannah and Sam THRESHER away from their mother. That you and the school and the school board would forgive Mr. THRESHER’s longstanding past debt is evidence that you and the board have taken sides in what is becoming an ever more public battle.
ALISON THRESHER JOURNAL ENTRIES
“Neither F (Fernando) or school has not folo’d (followed) thru on obligation. No physical proximity”
March 18, 2000
“If you’re uncomfortable that’s a sign. Go with that … Mad abt my thoughts re F (Fernando). Stress that lines of demarc. He is a teacher. Many people have concern abt male bsitters sometimes too stimulating for them.”