Five years later, family's still a family

Ashley Mann is busy getting ready for her freshman year of college this fall.

Lauren Mann will enter her freshman year of high school.

Six-year-old Katie has the first day of first grade to look forward to.

These upcoming adjustments, which fill so many others with anxiety or dread, shouldn’t be that big of a deal, Ashley and Lauren said. For them, these transitions will never compare to the traumatic experience that transformed their lives five years ago.

On July 18, 2004, Ashley, Lauren and Katie Mann were at home in Nashua when their father, Stephen Mann, murdered their mother. Mann shot and bludgeoned Kelly Mann early that morning before fleeing to Canada and leaving the girls, ages 12, 8, and 1 at the time, alone to find their mother and call 911.

“It feels surreal,” Ashley said. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been five years.”

Today, Mann is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder at the State Prison in Concord.

Meanwhile Ashley, Lauren and Katie have continued on with their lives, residing with Dave and Jannine Farrar and their children, Amy, 18, and Erik, 15, in their central New Hampshire home.

The girls are friendly and talkative. They have excelled with school, sports and other activities.

“I do better when I’m more active and busy,” Ashley said about her jam-packed high school years of straight-A grades, multiple sports, choir and two jobs. She will continue singing in college and take on chemistry and pre-med studies in the fall.

Lauren, an abstract artist and runner, is excited to run three seasons in high school. She also balances grades and sports well.

Katie, according to Ashley and Lauren, is an extremely smart and energetic 6-year-old.

“She’s always laughing,” Lauren said. “She likes to be the center of attention.”

The girls say they are incredibly close, not just with each other, but with the Farrars as well. The Manns and the Farrars consider themselves one family.

“We’ve all been through so much,” Ashley said. “They’ve had a big change having three people come into their family, and we’ve obviously been through a lot coming into their family.”

Katie, who was a toddler at the time of her mother’s death, even calls legal guardian Jannine Farrar, Mom.

The family can only explain the situation so much to 6-year-old Katie. Farrar said they follow a therapist’s advice and tell Katie the most they can without being brutally honest.

“We tell her, ‘Your daddy Steve hurt your mommy Kelly and now she is in heaven,’ ” Farrar said.

“We don’t talk about it with her that often,” Lauren said. “She doesn’t really understand heaven. If there’s no clouds she asks if mommy Kelly will fall.”

Ashley and Lauren do understand though, and they remember what happened that night. They work together to get through the difficult times.

“It doesn’t come up every day,” Lauren said. “When it does, you just work through it. It’s not like you constantly think about it.”

Not everything comes easy, though. Life still brings its challenges. “I had a hard time at the end of senior year, with graduation and prom,” Ashley said. “I wanted my mom to physically be there. But I worked through it.”

All things considered, the girls maintain a remarkably positive outlook on life. In fact, Amy Farrar says the Manns are the most optimistic people she knows.

It’s just the way they’ve learned to be, they explained.

“Little things definitely don’t bother me,” Lauren said. “I definitely don’t let them ruin my day.”

“I just take it one step at a time and one day at a time,” Ashley said. “Any situation I can usually turn it into a positive one. We both are really positive, and so was my mom.”

Rather than dwell on the nightmare five years ago, they focus on happy memories of their mother.

Lauren laughs about her own lack of cooking skills, which she says she inherited from her mom.

People tell Ashley she sounds like Kelly on the phone and looks more like her every day.

This Saturday, the girls will most likely remember Kelly by attending one of her favorite Nashua restaurants. They also hold a memorial 5K in October every year.

As for their dad, the girls said they try to focus on the good most of the time.

“He was my dad for so long, and he was a good dad then. Then he made a terrible decision,” Ashley said.

They occasionally correspond with their father, but they said they probably won’t go visit him for a long time.

“Right now I say I want to see him, but I can’t predict the future,” Ashley said. “When it first happened, I really wanted to know why, but now I’ve worked through it. The first time I see him it won’t be anything about that night.”

For now, the girls meet up with both their dad’s and their mom’s sides of the family once a month. They attend anniversary parties and see them for certain holidays. Ashley also plans to skydive with her dad’s sister, Karen, for her 18th birthday.

Five years later, the girls are growing up and moving on, even though they said they already feel much older than other kids their age.

“I’m more careful about my decisions,” Ashley said. “I know by far what’s right and what’s wrong. I feel older than I am, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.”

And rather than let the past devastate their future, they use it to make them stronger for things to come.

“(The past) should be more empowering than hold us back,” Lauren said. “I’m proud that we don’t use that as an excuse to not do as well as everyone else.”