WELEETKA — Shortly after two girls were found brutally murdered along a dirt road near this small town Sunday afternoon, the rumors around Okfuskee County started to spread like wildfire: •"They caught the guy who did it.” • "They have three guys in custody.” • "He confessed, and said he didn't have a motive.” It was the rampant rumors and "misinformation” surrounding the fatal shootings of Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11, that led to a time-to-set-the-record-straight news conference Tuesday in front of the Okfuskee County Courthouse in Okemah. Part of the confusion apparently came from remarks Sheriff Jack Choate made during media interviews. Choate, who has been in office two years, said Monday that his office had "suspects” in the case. He later said his office had identified "persons of interest.” So when word got out that Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation officials were calling a news conference, many residents lined up behind the news cameras to hear for themselves whether investigators had any idea who shot the girls, whether that person was still out there, and whether they should be worried for their own children's safety. They didn't find any comfort. "We have no solid suspect information,” OSBI agent Ben Rosser said at the afternoon briefing. "We have no person of interest. We have nobody we can put a finger on. We've received phone calls and we're looking into those leads.” Rosser told the crowd he thinks the shooter or shooters were locals, based on the secluded location several miles from Interstate 40 and three miles from the nearest highway.
What do officials know?Taylor's grandfather, Peter Placker, who was raising her, found the girls about 300 yards from his home after the girls went for a walk Sunday evening and didn't return. Placker went looking for the girls when Taylor didn't answer her cell phone. Placker used Taylor's cell phone to place a 911 call, Rosser said. Authorities were notified about 5:40 p.m. Sunday and spent most of Sunday night looking for evidence. Rosser said shell casings were found at the scene, as well as tire tracks and footprints. Rosser would not release the caliber of gun thought to have been used in the shooting. The girls had walked along the dirt road to the bridge over Bad Creek."We're not sure whether it was somebody passing by,” Rosser said. "It's an active area for people to throw things from the bridge or shoot things from the bridge.” Rosser said the road, while remote, gets a fair amount of local traffic. The investigation so far has been focused on people who may live in the area or who would be familiar with the country roads. "It's not likely someone pulled off the interstate or the highway and just stopped there,” Rosser said. "It's possible they went to meet somebody, or interrupted something, or maybe it was a personal attack.” The OSBI announced a $14,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the shootings. Rosser said the reward could increase as the OSBI gets calls of people wanting to donate. "America's Most Wanted” plans to do a segment on the slaying, he said. Autopsies performed Monday on the girls show they had been shot in the head and chest, said Kevin Rowland, chief investigator for the medical examiner's office. Rowland did not release any other details, including the number of times each girl was shot. The girls were found wearing T-shirts and shorts. Rosser said DNA is being recovered from the girls. Samples taken from their clothing and under their fingernails are being tested for substances or anything that might give investigators a clue about the last minutes of their lives. "We have no information on whether the girls were sexually assaulted or not,” Rosser said. "In that time frame, I doubt it, but we're still looking into it.” The Okfuskee County district attorney's office declined Tuesday to either confirm or deny whether any search warrants have been issued in the investigation.
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In this undated photo, Taylor Paschal-Placker, left, is pictured with her grandparents, Peter Placker, center, and Vickey Placker.
How to help•A fund has been set up to help pay for the funeral expenses for both girls. Donations may be sent to: Bank of Commerce, P.O. Box 48, Weleetka, OK 74880. For more information call (405) 786-2216.