HENRYETTA — One unanswered question hung over the funerals Friday for gunshot victims Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker and Skyla Jade Whitaker: Why? In separate services, hundreds of relatives and friends grappled with the realizationthat both girls were truly gone, leaving the living to struggle with their senseless Sunday murders on a rural Okfuskee County road. Best friends, Taylor, 13, and Skyla, 11, were discovered together near a dirt road some 300 yards from Taylor's home. Their bodies had been pierced by bullets from what investigators now know came from two different firearms. Their killer or killers remain at large. For now, only sorrow and anger can be found. "We have two choices today,” said the Rev. Jim Paslay, officiating Skyla's afternoon funeral to an overflowing crowd at the First Baptist Church in Henryetta. "We can either be bitter or better. It's a choice. "I don't know about you, but I want to be better.” As Paslay spoke, law enforcement agents from Okmulgee and Henryetta began to congregate outside the church with word that the OSBI had released a sketch of "a person of interest” in the case. The man in the sketch is a male of American Indian descent with brown hair, a pony tail and a plain baseball cap. Agents also confiscated the funeral service registry, and snapped pictures of people as they exited the service. Inside, Rosita Gordon — Skyla's older sister — read a few words written by her mother, Rose Whitaker. Gordon reminded everyone how Skyla loved life, cats, cheerleading, walks, rain, and naturally, fighting with her sisters. "Now she will never graduate ... never have boyfriends ... never go to college ... never have children,” Gordon said. "Someone stole that from her ... What little comfort we have is that, in the end, she was with her best friend; walking, having a good time on a beautiful day.” Paslay would reflect on those words moments later, saying, "They tug at all of our hearts because we can all relate.” The pastor then begged those in attendance not to waste time seeking "revenge,” but rather to honor Skyla by loving one another.
‘No more tears'Four hours earlier, the Rev. Ron King delivered a similar message of love and faith at the First Baptist Church in Dewar. "What happened is tragic, but Taylor is full of life,” King said in a church thick with sorrow. "She's still full of life. She's alive right now.” King tried to comfort the several hundred family and friends in attendance, reminding them that Taylor now stands before God with "no more tears; no more hurt.” Below King's pulpit sat the object of everyone's grief – a pristine, white casket crowned with a bouquet of white and pink carnations. The first sight of the casket caused a few relatives to sob aloud, and one to collapse into the hands of a loved one. Later, the casket would be opened. Mourners filed by in stunned silence, some lingering for several moments. "How do you prepare for this?” King asked. "I just pray.” King paused momentarily. He admitted he had not prepared words, but only those "from the heart.” "I'm told Taylor wanted to be a forensic scientist,” King continued. "Let her be one. Let her be one. ... She used to see turtles on a road. She'd stop and move them off to the side so they wouldn't get hurt. Today, if you see a turtle on a road, stop and move it to the side. Taylor would have. "Taylor used to love to jump on a trampoline. Go jump on a trampoline today for Taylor. Let her live through you. Celebrate her life.” Slideshows of both Taylor and Skyla prompted a flood of tears. Skyla could be seen in a haunting tapestry of photographs, from images of a baby bathing in the kitchen sink to a beautiful girl donning her green and white cheerleading outfit. Several pictures also showed Taylor with her cheerleading squad. In one picture, she flashes an infectious smile with a slight, playful tilt of the head. Moments later, Sarah McLachlan's "Arms of an Angel” filled the church. Eyes again began to water. On this day, the nostalgic and sentimental song seemed to carry a haunting message when McGaughlin sings of "vultures and thieves at your back.” "It's time for a community to draw closer together,” King pleaded. "How are we to protect our children if we don't draw close together? ... Don't let this end as a tragedy. "Something good will come out of all this. We have to believe that.”
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