OKEMAH — When sheriff's office chaplain Michael Grigsby walked into the Okfuskee County Courthouse on Friday clutching his morning cup of coffee, he was greeted by one of the jail's inmates. "Hey, preacher,” the man said. "Let's pray today's gonna be a good day.” Not fully understanding the context, Grigsby must have looked puzzled. "We need to pray that we catch these guys,” the inmate continued. He was referring to the person, or persons, who a week ago today gunned down two girls on a county road near the small town of Weleetka. The girls — 13-year-old Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker and 11-year-old Skyla Jade Whitaker, were laid to rest after separate funeral services Friday. On the day of the funerals, investigators released a sketch of a suspicious man seen in the area where the girls were found. The break in the case is encouraging, but investigators still do not have any solid suspects. And that is something that is upsetting even to the criminal element in Okfuskee County. "These guys are criminals,” Grigsby said of the county jail's inmates, including the man who greeted him Friday morning. "They are inmates who got on the wrong side of the law and are locked up, and they are praying that we catch the bad guys. Everyone here is on the same page, from the doctors and lawyers to those who are locked up in jail, and that is a testament to our community and our unity.”
‘Get sleep later'When the 911 call came in that the bodies of Taylor and Skyla had been found lying in a ditch just 300 yards from Taylor's home, it went without saying that all Okfuskee County sheriff's officers were going to report for duty and work around the clock for as long as it took. It was also no surprise that in his support role to the investigators and staff, Grigsby never heard a single complaint from the men and women who have dropped everything to help bring justice and stability to the community of Weleetka. "Our people are tired ... they are not able to sleep well and not able to eat well,” Grigsby said. "Many of them go home, get two hours' sleep, and then they are back up to work and back out in the woods.” Gigsby said he didn't expect the public to fully understand the commitment and sacrifices being made by local law enforcement. To do so, Grigsby said, they would have to overhear the phone calls, trying to explain to a spouse why they wouldn't be home for dinner again. Officers have to explain to a child leaving for summer camp why they can't run home to hug them goodbye. They are trying to convince their families — and themselves — why they're not home to protect their children when killers are on the loose. "The guys share about their personal fears for their kids,” Grigsby said. "Their wives are getting frustrated because they are not home to help with kids or to mow the yard or maybe to go to a dinner party that has been scheduled for three weeks. "Our people are sad and frustrated, and they don't want to disappoint their spouse, but they have no other option. They can't say, ‘OK guys, I'm going to take a three-hour break.' They can't do that and they won't do that. They will make it up to their families later. Everybody will get sleep later.”
‘No sense of despair'Grigsby, who now serves as pastor of Church of Christ Okemah, was a teenager when he first met Okfuskee County Sheriff Jack Choate. At that time, the sheriff was a patrolman with the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. "He gave me my first traffic ticket when I was 16,” Grigsby chuckled. But the circumstances of the meeting apparently did not affect the way Grigsby saw the man, who he is glad is in charge of an investigation like this. "He has committed his entire adult life to law enforcement, and he's still plugging along as sheriff because he's so passionate about what he does,” Grigsby said. "Of course, everybody is tired and frustrated and wants that phone call to come in, or for that random traffic stop to produce some weapons in the back seat ... whatever it takes to make it happen and break this case,” Grigsby said. "But I can honestly tell you that there is no sense of despair about solving this thing. There is no sense of, ‘My God, we're never gonna solve this,' or, ‘We're getting nowhere.' That's just not the feeling.” There is an element of fear because "this person or persons are still out there,” Grigsby said. "But there's more people tucking their babies in than there were a week ago. There're more people reading bedtime stories to them than a week ago. And good will come out of this.” Contributing: John David Sutter
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