OKEMAH — Officials say they are now searching for a man driving a white Ford or Chevy pickup with a black ponytail who may have information into the homicide deaths of two Weleetka girls.
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jessica Brown said the man is wanted for questioning, but not necessarily a suspect.
"We just want to question this man," she said during a press conference this afternoon in Okemah. "Maybe he saw someone in the area. We don't know if this man is local, we presume that, but we don't know. We have several witnesses who saw the man and we have several witnesses who heard gunshots. Witnesses say he acted suspiciously, but we don't know what he was doing there."
Brown has described the man as American Indian, 6-feet-tall with brown eyes and a long black ponytail. Witnesses said the man was seen standing outside his truck on the county road where the girls were later found dead. Brown said witnesses told investigators that truck was blocking the road around the time of the shooting and the man was standing outside the truck. About six witnesses have given the same account, Brown said.
"This is absolutely solvable," said Brown.
The new details in the case were disclosed as friends and family members attended the funeral for 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker at a Henryetta church. At the funeral, investigators entered the church and took the guest book. Services for Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13 were held this morning in Dewar.
The two girls were shot on a heavily-wooded dirt road near the rural town of Weleetka, OSBI Agent Ben Rosser said authorities "have not hit the wall or run out of leads, by any means."
Rosser did say his investigation is taking officials outside this part of east-central Oklahoma, to places such as Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Seminole. Tips have come in from neighboring states, he said.
Twelve people were working on the investigation in nearby Okemah this morning. At least 10 more officers have been spread out in the other locations, he said.
Rosser said the fact that the girls were shot in such a remote place leads him to believe any suspects would come from this area of east central Oklahoma, about 90 miles east of Oklahoma City. He also said the killer or killers may have ties to this part of the state.
Skyla Whitaker, 11, and Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, were shot in the head and chest Sunday night near Taylor's home, northeast of Weleetka. The girls apparently were taking a late afternoon walk when they were killed.
Rosser made a point of saying that investigators have not become desperate in their search, and may return to the crime scene on the dirt road today. Yesterday, officials made GPS maps of the site from helicopters.
"It's not out of desperation," he said. "I call it just being thorough."
Area residents have been locking their kids inside and watching their backs, fearing a killer is on the loose. Rosser would not answer questions about whether that situation makes him feel pressure to name a suspect soon.
Rosser spoke to the media from a command center in the Okfuskee County Courthouse. Black-and-white photocopies of evidence — a boot print in the dirt road, for instance — were taped to the wall. Most of the evidence was covered from public viewing. Rosser had drawn a map of the country road, and the bridge near where the girls were shot, on a marker board in the fourth-floor office. Investigators pecked on laptops.
Rosser said they were taking calls on leads. They've gotten 200 so far, he said, adding that the number is growing. The OSBI is offering a $30,000 reward for information that leads to a suspect in the case.
Anyone with information is asked to call the OSBI hot line at (800) 522-8017.