From Tanning-Trends.Com - February 2005

Fighting for Son's Final Words

On Nov. 13, Lance Corporal Justin Ellsworth died while on duty in Iraq. Justin was the stepson of salon owner and Smart Tan member Debbie Robere. Many in the industry know Debbie, a 25-year industry veteran and owner of Tanfaster salons in the suburban Detroit area, yet many won't recognize her married name - Ellsworth - because she uses her maiden name for business.

Debbie and her family are now fighting for Justin, and for his last words. Most of their communication with Justin was digital, Debbie Ellsworth says, and after Justin's death, John Ellsworth asked Internet giant Yahoo! for access to his account. No, said Yahoo!, not without his password. The family wants to remember him in his words and preserve what they have left of him in a scrapbook.
Justin's death and subsequent efforts to recapture his digital correspondence has sparked a national debate about handing over such correspondence to next of kin. As of early January, Yahoo! continued to deny the request, citing a policy all users agree to at sign-up that calls for erasing accounts that are inactive for 90 days, and that the right to ID and contents terminate upon death. Other large Internet providers do have provisions in place to transfer content to next of kin.
Debbie Ellsworth says this isn't a matter of privacy and she's frustrated when others debate her family's rights to Justin - because that's how she sees it - on national TV. "It is weird to listen to some of the experts on CNN debate your life. They don't even know who I am, and they say, well this is bigger than just Justin Ellsworth and okay fine, it's bigger. Give me the password. I know my kid wasn't a saint, I understand that. But he wasn't in a dorm room writing to his college friends about who and what he was doing. He was in Iraq, fighting for his life, fighting for the country, fighting for us. We're not asking for an invasion of property. We want his final words. This is the essence of Justin. He has a ten-year-old sister, and we want her to know who he was."

Debbie says her family did have Justin's permission to see his e-mails. Justin wrote to John and told him he was keeping everybody's emails because they meant so much to him. He got so many letters of support," she said. "John said 'awesome, send them over and we'll start a scrapbook.' But then he went into Fallujah, and all communication was cut so it never happened. We didn't have time."

Debbie was at the ITA World Expo and Smart Tan Educational Conference in Orlando when Justin was killed. She learned of his death immediately after leaving the party on Saturday evening. "It was probably the worst place in the world to hear about it, the worst time," she says. "I was having a lot of apprehension about even going to Orlando, because I knew he was invading Fallujah, so I was kind of on edge. I spent Saturday walking the showroom floor and when I saw the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, I thought this is so perfect, because he will be the hit of Iraq with this calendar. So I stood in the long lines and I went to each cheerleader and had them sign a special thing for him, and they all said something about how proud they were of him. He's on my mind all the time anyway, but for some reason he was really on my mind that day."

L/Cpl Justin Ellsworth arrived in Iraq on Sept. 11, 2004. The 20-year-old Marine engineer was part of a special reconnaissance team and trained as a munitions expert. He was killed in the line of duty while serving with 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Combat Service Support Battalion. "He felt it was a huge honor to be chosen [for the reconnaissance team]." Debbie says. "My son was wonderful."

Memorials may be sent to:

L/Cpl Justin M. Ellsworth Memorial Fund
c/o National City Bank
246 Liberty Street
Walled Lake, MI 48390

Last modified date and time: 02/12/2005 8:15