Woman killed by celebratory gunfire identified as long-time nurse for Menninger Clinic

HOUSTON – A Houston family is facing a grim start to the new year after their family matriarch was shot and killed by what authorities believe was celebratory gunfire.

The incident happened just after midnight on May Laurel road near Laurel Oaks Drive in north Harris County.

According to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, the family was ringing in the new year and were out in the front yard lighting fireworks, when the 61-year-old woman -- identified as Philippa Ashford -- said that she thought she had been shot.

Officials said they found Ashford with a gunshot wound to her neck. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Deputies said they believe the bullet came from celebratory gunfire.

“We walked the streets and canvassed up and down to see if we can find any shell casings or anything in the neighborhood and are not finding anything,” authorities said.

“Celebratory shooting, it shouldn’t happen and it’s unfortunate,” said John Babineaux, a neighbor who happens to be a retired officer. “You shouldn’t have to worry about stray bullets coming down and hitting you. But it happens all the time and innocent people get hurt and killed out here.”

On New Year’s Eve, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo held a news conference urging people not to shoot guns in the air to celebrate and that it’s illegal.

“What goes up must come down if you discharge a firearm in the city of Houston in the air that is an absolute crime it will be taken seriously,” Acevedo said.

Ashford was a nurse at the Menninger Clinic for more than 12 years. She was the manager for the “Comprehensive Psychiatric Assessment Service, a hospital program for adults who need stabilization and assessment for their mental health symptoms or detoxification from substance use.”

According to the clinic, Ashford was also an adjunct professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

President and CEO of the clinic, Armando Colombo, released a statement on Ashford’s death and said the clinic would be “providing grief counseling and support to its community and other impacted by the loss of Phillipa Ashford.”

Here is the full statement:

“The Menninger Clinic community is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Philippa “Phil” Ashford, who was a nurse manager at our hospital and served as a leader and mentor to our nursing and clinical team. Our hearts go out to her family and friends at this very sad time and we offer our support and deepest sympathy. Menninger will hold a memorial service to honor Philippa, whose loss as a talented professional and friend will be felt by all of us here at Menninger and across our local mental health community.”

Officials are still working to determine where the gunfire came from., but they believe it came from outside the family’s immediate neighborhood.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

About the Authors:

Daniela Sternitzky-Di Napoli has been a digital news editor at KPRC 2 since 2018. She is a published poet and has background in creative writing and journalism. Daniela has covered events like Hurricane Harvey and the Astros World Series win. In her spare time, Daniela is an avid reader and loves to spend time with her two miniature dachshunds.