WELEETKA — In the biggest and most visible investigative effort since two girls were gunned down Sunday, state agents and local officials closed an isolated stretch of County Line Road on Thursday for another look at the scene. Investigators hovered over the area in a helicopter, searching the nearby creek bed and marking important points with coordinates. The community was abuzz. It had to mean something, residents said. It was enough to bring Graham Elementary School Principal Wanda Mankin to Okemah for the regular afternoon news conference — instead of waiting to read about the situation in the news. "I heard they were going to have a big announcement, so I wanted to come up and see what it was,” she said. Both 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker and 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker had gone to Mankin's school, and she remembered them as good girls who couldn't have done anything to deserve being shot multiple times in the head and chest area by two guns. Mankin wrung her hands in anticipation as OSBI agent Ben Rosser prepared to speak in front of the Okfuskee County Courthouse. She, like the other members of the community who have been paralyzed by fear since the killings, wanted an answer. But as Rosser started his briefing, her face fell, and she knew that answer was not coming Thursday. "There's not a whole lot of new information this afternoon,” Rosser said.
Scattered details emergeHere's what Rosser did say: •Investigators had identified a witness who saw the girls on the road before they died, but that the witness would probably only help "nail down” a timeline surrounding the shootings. •Police had previously administered lie detector tests to some of the people they had interviewed, but the tests did not produce a suspect. •Agents were back out at the scene doing more work. •Both girls were shot multiple times by two guns. "I think ‘angry' is a good word for it,” Mankin said of her mood, and the mood of others from the area. "Rumors are still everywhere that this happened or that happened. I just want some answers. I want to know why this happened.” One of Mankin's biggest fears, echoed by other townspeople, is that the return to the crime scene was not hopeful, but rather desperate, she said. "I'm getting scared about what we're going to do when school starts back and we have to run bus routes and we still don't know who did this,” she said. "How are we going to be able to leave kids at bus stops or drop them off, knowing these people are still out there?” Another community member, Tammy Smith, said she came with her two children to the news briefing Thursday so they could see that police are working to find the people who killed their friends. "I want them to know they are working on it,” she said. "I know there are people who want answers right now, but I also know they are working as hard as they can.” Since the shooting, Smith said, her 11-year-old daughter, Destiny, and her 13-year-old son, Bryan, who was in class with Taylor and Skyla at school, have been too scared to sleep in their own beds. "I'm scared this could happen to me,” Bryan said. "The killer is still on the loose.”
Daily life near the sceneCody Nelson, who lives near the Plackers, was a little nervous Thursday while mowing his lawn. "I'm out here,” he said. "But this thing has still got me watching my back.” Nelson says he is a cautious man. He's not planning on letting his wife or kids get far from the house anytime soon. He also said he's a little distraught by some of the implications he's been reading that he says make his neighborhood look like a place where drug dealers are hiding in the woods just off the roads. "It's just not like that here,” he said. "I never see anything going on at that bridge. Kids don't go there to drink or shoot, and it's not a place to buy and sell drugs. I've seen those places, but this is not one of those places.” A little farther up the same road from Nelson is the community of Bryant, where residents are also concerned about such a gruesome crime committed practically at their back door. As resident Eugene Hood put it, Bryant was a one-horse town, but that was before the horse died. Less than two miles from the spot where the girls were shot, Hood said he is still shocked something like that could happen. Hood said he didn't want to sound coldhearted because he felt bad for the girls and their families, but he said a part of him was hoping to just be able to move on and forget about it. "As long as people are around here asking questions, we're gonna dwell on it,” he said. "And if you dwell on it, you're gonna go crazy wondering how the hell a human being could do that to another person, let alone two little girls. There's just no rhyme, reason or justification.” Telling his grandchildren they couldn't go play outside earlier this week was a pretty tough thing to do, Hood said, because that's what children are supposed to do in the summer. But he said there will need to be a break in the case or some serious passage of time before he feels comfortable letting them out in the neighborhood again unsupervised.
About the shootingsTaylor and Skyla were found in a ditch along a dirt road less than a mile from Taylor's home Sunday evening. They had gunshot wounds to the head and chest, the state medical examiner's office said. Both girls were fully clothed when they were found, and so far there is nothing to indicate they had been sexually assaulted, investigators have said. Agents are hoping a $25,000 reward might bring forth information on the killings. Local banks and community members contributed $5,000 toward the reward. The OSBI and the U.S. Marshals Service have contributed $10,000 each.
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Funeral services•Taylor Paschal-Placker: 10 a.m. today at First Baptist Church in Dewar. •Skyla Whitaker: 2 p.m. today at First Baptist Church in Henryetta.