Sketch released in double murder case

By Justin Juozapavicius
Weleetka, Oklahoma (AP) 6-08

On the day of funeral services for two girls gunned down almost a week ago along a back country road near this rural town, authorities released a sketch June 13 of a “person of interest” they want to interview about the grisly murders.

Jessica Brown, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, said the man was seen standing near a white pickup truck near the time and place 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker and 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker were shot to death recently.

He was described as an American Indian, about 6 feet tall, with black hair and a pony tail. He was driving in a white Ford or Chevrolet single cab pickup with chrome stripping and an Oklahoma license tag.

“We just want to talk to him,” she said. “We think he might have seen something to resolve the case.”

Brown also said several witnesses have come forward, with some saying they saw the man as they drove along the road where the girls were found and others saying they heard gunshots.

“He was stopped on the road, standing outside of his pickup truck doing something,” she said. “It looked a little suspicious.”

Investigators still lacked an explanation for why the girls were murdered, and theories have included a random thrill killing, attempted abduction or that the girls stumbled upon something, perhaps a drug deal, and paid for it with their lives.

On June 12, crime scene investigators returned to the spot where the girls were found and searched nearby woods.

The girls were shot a number of times in the head and chest with weapons of two different calibers, leading authorities to think two gunmen were involved.

Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Agent Ben Rosser has said it is suspected that a local person was involved because the killings occurred in such an isolated area. Rosser said that nothing is being ruled out but that there is no indication family or friends were involved.

Full autopsy results have not been released, but investigators said it appears the girls were not molested. They noted the youngsters were clothed and the bodies were found only about a half-hour after the girls began walking.

The killings have rattled this working-class community of 1,000 people, situated about 70 miles south of Tulsa. Emotions here have ranged from shock and fear to frustration at the lack of leads in the case.

The tension still thick and hearts heavy, hundreds of mourners filled two Baptist churches in the nearby communities of Dewar and Henryetta to pay final tribute to the best friends.

Just viewing the caskets from the church pews proved enough for some who had asked all week of God and man: what kind of person could do this to two young girls?

“Do I have the words of comfort? No, I don’t,” said the Rev. Ron King at Taylor’s funeral. “They were just babies. How do you make sense of this?”

It was only two weeks ago at a family reunion that King found out he was related to Taylor, and his revelation at the service underscored just how close-knit the town is.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” the preacher said.

These were some scenes from the tragedy: friends of the girls releasing balloons into an overcast sky; family members wearing sunglasses inside the chapel to shield eyes that have shed too many tears; classmates clinging to their moms and dads, crying and looking for answers.

Residents here had to keep reminding themselves the girls were truly gone, that they would never learn to drive a car, attend the senior prom, get engaged or bounce a son or daughter of their own on their knees.

“All of us are frustrated and angry today,” said the Rev. Jim Paslay at Skyla’s funeral. “I cannot offer you any words today that will bring her back.”

Through as many tears as words, family members described the girls a nation came to know recent days.

Taylor recently turned 13. She was a sometimes shy honor roll student who loved jumping on trampolines and writing her name in marker on the shells of turtles she’d rescue in the road.

Skyla played post on the girls’ basketball team. She had 13 cats and a love for video games and scary movies. Rainy days were her favorite and so was wearing high heels – the higher the heel the better.

Before their dreams were snatched from them, Taylor wanted to become a forensic scientist; Skyla a veterinarian.

Some relatives said they were prepared to take it on faith that justice would come.

“I know they’ll catch them,” said Brian Thornton, Skyla’s cousin. “They’ll get what’s coming to them, maybe not what they deserve, but they’ll get what’s coming to them.”