After a lifetime of silence, Robert Blake's daughter is speaking out.
Rose Lenore was just 11 months old when her mother, Bonny Lee Bakley, was fatally shot outside Vitello's restaurant in Studio City, California, on May 4, 2001. She was just a year older when her Emmy-winning actor father, Robert Blake, was charged with Bakley's murder. (He was later acquitted but found civilly liable.)
"It was kind of a traumatic childhood at that point," Lenore says.
Raised by her half-sister Delinah and her husband in Sherman Oaks, Lenore lived a private life away from the spotlight - and from Blake, who she'd last seen when she was 5.
Now, as she embarks on an acting career, Lenore says she wants to finally take control of the narrative surrounding her life. "It's hard when everyone talks about you and you're not talking about yourself," she tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I am now."
Lenore, who says she has suffered from anxiety and depression over the years, was the subject of unwanted media fascination after her mother's murder. She recalls an incident in her teens when, as a cheerleader at a high school football game, she noticed that "some guy in the stand was taking pictures of me," she says. "I had a feeling it was paparazzi, but I just kept going … the show must go on."
• For more on Rose Lenore's journey, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week's issue, on newsstands Friday.
A few weeks later, those photos appeared in the pages of a tabloid magazine. It was a "positive article," she says, but it put "distance between me and my classmates."
When Lenore turned 18, she decided to reconnect with her past, which included visiting Bakley's grave near the Hollywood Hills.
"I kind of didn't know where she was buried for the longest time," she says. "I could have just looked it up, but I didn't. I just don't think I was ready. And then when I was 18, I was like, 'I'm ready. I want to go visit her.'"
Earlier this summer, she met Blake, whom she refers to as "Robert" rather than "Dad." "We talked about my childhood," she says. "We talked about his life, what he's been doing. Just talked about everything."
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Lenore, who is now 19 and lives with her boyfriend and two cats, says she is happy with her life and her plan to pursue her lifelong dream of acting.
"You get to let go of everything else, all the nervousness, anxiety and sadness and you get to be somebody else," she says.
She also wants to set the record straight about her life. "People talk about it anyways," she says. "It would be nice to have the actual person they're talking about be able to say something."