WELEETKA — Today is the first day of classes at Graham Public Schools — and despite the best efforts of teachers and administrators, much will be different. Two months ago, the 100-student school lost two of its pupils in an act of violence that has paralyzed the community with fear. "It's a hard age to try to explain to,” said elementary Principal Wanda Mankin. "And their belief that all's right with the world is now shattered.” Taylor Placker, who was going into the seventh grade, and her best friend, Skyla Whitaker, who was going into the sixth grade, were shot to death June 8. They were left lying in a ditch along a dirt road four miles northeast of Weleetka. The killer or killers have not been arrested, and investigators say they have no suspects or apparent motive. School officials have decided to try to move forward with some semblance of normalcy. Mankin said she didn't want a team of counselors walking around, and didn't want extra security patrolling the hallways. Such obvious reminders of the killings might prove counter-productive, she said. "We may have a student who is happy that school is starting, but they see a counselor and think that means they are probably supposed to be sad and that something may be wrong with them for feeling what they are feeling,” the principal said. School officials have also closed the campus to news media. They also changed school bus routes to avoid the crime scene where the two girls were shot to death, Mankin said. But in a school where a dozen teachers manage 100 students, there's little doubt the absence of Skyla and Taylor is going to be felt.
Reminders of the girlsTeachers and students who preregistered for classes were given green and purple rubber bracelets that read: "In memory of Taylor and Skyla — BFF,” or best friends forever. Mankin said the school wanted to do something to honor the memory of the girls, and they decided to order the memorial wristbands, which were made in the girls' favorite colors — green for Taylor, purple for Skyla. And while parents may be reassured by the presence of uniformed officers at the school, the patrol cars parked outside the school might also serve as a reminder to students that all is not well. Okfuskee County Undersheriff Darrell Summers said his office met with school officials on Tuesday to discuss safety issues at the school and at bus stops. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation also asked teachers to eavesdrop on student conversations in the hallways and in the cafeteria, Mankin said. While it is not the school's job to interrogate students, she said, "kids do talk,” and something that might seem insignificant could actually provide the lead that helps solve the case.
500 leads investigatedJessica Brown, OSBI spokeswoman, said she wished that two months after the two girls were shot to death she had some better news. Unfortunately, that was not the case this week. "We're doing everything we can do,” she said. "It just hasn't gotten us to the place we need to be.” The OSBI spokeswoman said agents have tracked down more than 500 leads and are continuing to pursue "some really good leads.” "Unfortunately, we've run really good leads before and they just kind of fizzled out, because people had alibis and that sort of thing,” she said. One new development in the case is that the medical examiner's office indicates they are "getting close” to finishing autopsies on both girls. The results may be available later this week.
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