WELEETKA — Rose Whitaker took one look at the man waving at her in the road Sunday and knew something was terribly wrong. "They're gone,” the man said when she pulled up alongside him. "They're both gone. The girls are dead.” Whitaker's daughter, Skyla Jade, 11, and Skyla's best friend, Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13, lay lifeless in a nearby ditch. Each had been shot multiple times in the chest and head. Ballistics tests and autopsies indicate two weapons of different calibers were involved, raising the possibility of more than one killer. For Skyla's family, Wednesday was the hardest day. Forensic investigators returned the girl's body to a funeral home, giving her mother, father and grandparents their first chance to see her since her death. Last weekend, Whitaker let Skyla sleep over at Taylor's house. At 5:08 p.m. Sunday, Whitaker called to let Taylor's grandfather know she was on her way to pick up Skyla. A short time later, the grandfather, Peter Placker, found the girls in a ditch about 300 yards from his home. He waved Whitaker down as she drew near. "Placker stopped her and wouldn't let her get close,” said Claudia Farrow, Skyla's grandmother. "He just held her and said, ‘They're gone.' ” When Farrow found out, she and her husband, Jimmy, broke the news to Skyla's father, James Whitaker. "When we told him, he just went numb,” Claudia Farrow said. At the crime scene, Claudia Farrow bolted toward her granddaughter's body, making it about 50 feet before she was stopped. She just wanted to see her special granddaughter, who'd been in the process of finishing her first quilt for 4-H. The family waited at the scene until 3 a.m. hoping for some answers. There were none to give.
Still no suspectsThree days later, the families of both of the victims don't know much more than they did that first night. In a news conference Wednesday, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent Ben Rosser said investigators are trying to find children who talked to the girls often and knew their habits. "We're talking to young people because the victims were young,” Rosser said. "We've got leads, and we're talking to their friends, but a lot of people are harder to find than others.” Earlier Wednesday, investigators said two guns were used in the killings. Jimmy Farrow said he'd been told that the first night. "They said there was a high-powered weapon and a low-powered weapon,” Jimmy Farrow said. "One of the TV stations showed shell casings piled up in the road where it happened.” Jessica Brown, OSBI spokeswoman, said ballistics examiners confirmed the use of two weapons. Investigators are also screening a computer that Taylor used at the Placker home, Brown said. Agents are hoping a $25,000 reward might lead to information that will crack the case. Local banks and community members contributed $5,000 toward the reward.
Investigators think killers were familiar with areaOfficials think the slayings may have been committed by people from the local area or who are familiar with the rural Okfuskee County roads. "That's my gut feeling,” Rosser said. "It's an isolated area. We don't know if this is some kind of random thrill killing or an attempted abduction or a case of mistaken identity. It's possible they may have interrupted something at the bridge.” The bridge along County Line Road is a popular place for teens to gather and shoot guns, Rosser said. Agents looked into a tip Wednesday morning that someone reported a pickup full of boys in the area around the time of the killings. "We contacted those individuals, and yes, they had a shotgun,” Rosser said. "They told us they were down there shooting, just like they would have been on any Sunday. There's nothing to indicate that they are suspects.” The Placker family previously said Taylor and Skyla walked to the bridge about 5 p.m. Sunday. When they didn't return and could not be reached by cell phone, Peter Placker went looking for them and found the bodies. He called 911 using Taylor's phone. Wednesday, Joe Mosher, Taylor's great uncle, said the family is distraught and not interested in talking to the media. Funeral services for Taylor will begin at 10 a.m. Friday at Dewar First Baptist Church. Services for Skyla will begin at 2 p.m. Friday at the First Baptist Church in Henryetta. Shurden Funeral Home in Henryetta will handle funeral services for Taylor, and Rogers Funeral Home, also in Henryetta, will handle services for Skyla.
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Taylor Dawn Paschal-PlackerDakota Padgett, 10, hugs his brother, Devon Padgett, 7, on Wednesday in front of a memorial on the side of a road where Skyla and Taylor were found slain Sunday.An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agent loads up a computer that was removed from Taylor Paschal-Placker's home on Wednesday. Taylor was slain Sunday on a dirt road with her friend Skyla Whitaker.A family photo shows Skyla Whitaker with father, James Whitaker. The 13-year-old was shot dead Sunday. Associated Press By David McDaniel, The OklahomanPhoto Provided
How to help•Donations may be sent to the Bank of Commerce, P.O. Box 248, Weleetka, OK 74880.
Reward offered• OSBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction. Call (800) 522-8017.