Wanda Mankin, elementary principal of Graham Public Schools, where the slain girls attended school, said people in the small town and surrounding areas are “kind of elated” by news of Sweat's arrest.
“It is three years, six months and one day,” Mankin said. “But we all realize this is just Step One in our journey to justice.”
Mankin said she's heard the suspect's name a lot in recent months but didn't get her hopes up.
“But I've heard a lot of things over three years that didn't pan out to be true,” she said. “So, it got to where you just didn't put a lot of stock in rumors.”
Mankin said she spoke with Whitaker's parents but that they weren't ready to talk publicly about Sweat's arrest.
“They're needing time to internalize this information,” the principal said. “I think they were told this morning, and they just need some family time together.”
One of the biggest cases ever
The OSBI has held several news conferences in the years since the girls were killed. The agency attempted to keep the crime fresh in the minds of local residents. A $160,000 reward for information that could break the case has been offered and is supplemented by money from private donors.
Significant developments in the case included a vague drawing of a person of interest soon after the killings, a grand jury investigation in September 2008 that yielded no indictment and an announcement in September that investigators were looking for a .40-caliber Glock pistol with serial number EKG463US.
Authorities said last month they were investigating a man charged with killing his girlfriend for possible links to the case. Sweat, 25, of Henryetta, is charged with murder in Okfuskee County in the July death of his girlfriend, Ashley Taylor.
OSBI Director Stan Florence said his agency conducted nearly 640 interviews, investigated more than 900 leads and performed 19,000 forensic tests on 800 pieces of evidence collected during the course of this investigation.
“I recognize that there are other unsolved cases throughout our state that investigators work on every single day,” Florence said.
“To the families of those victims, please know that every case is a priority for us, and be assured that the OSBI will continue to work thoroughly on these cases as well. As with this case, we will never give up.
“But hopefully one day, like this day, you will have the experience that the families of Taylor and Skyla are having, finally able to experience the first step toward justice for their loved ones.”
Weleetka is a small community about 90 miles east of Oklahoma City.