WELEETKA — Officials announced Friday they are searching for a man with a black ponytail and driving a white Ford or Chevy pickup who may have information on the recent shooting deaths of two girls here. Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jessica Brown said at a news conference in Okemah that the man is wanted for questioning, but is not necessarily a suspect in the killings of Skyla Whitaker, 11, and Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13. "We just want to question this man,” she said. "Maybe he saw someone in the area. ... Witnesses say he acted suspiciously, but we don't know what he was doing there.” A composite drawing of the man was released by the OSBI. Residents of Weleetka, near where the girls were found shot on a backwoods dirt road Sunday, viewed Friday's clue with some optimism. In a case that has produced little in the way of public information, any "person of interest” brings hope, they said. But the tidbit isn't enough for parents to let their kids outside again or for some residents to be able to sleep well at night. On Friday, Weleetka looked like an abandoned town: doors were shut and locked, window blinds were turned downward. Some residents said they won't be able to relax — to avoid jumping at small noises and always watching their backs — until authorities are sure who committed the crime. "My sense of security will never completely come back,” said Shauna Nelson, 27. "But if they could catch the persons or person who ... did this, that would ease so much.” At the time of the shooting Sunday afternoon, the man was seen by witnesses blocking the backwoods dirt road where the two girls were found shot in the chest and head, fully clothed, she said. Funerals for the girls were also held Friday. Brown described the man authorities want to interview as American Indian, 6 feet tall, with brown eyes and a long black ponytail. She said a couple of witnesses told the OSBI they saw the man near where the girls were found dead. Other witnesses said they heard gunshots but did not report seeing the man or his white truck, Brown said. Brown declined to say how many gunshots were heard or at what times. Previously, authorities said ballistics tests showed that two different-caliber guns were used in the slayings. Another witness said he or she saw the girls before their deaths, according to officials. Little else has been said about the case. That's led to a swirl of rumors in Okemah, with some saying the girls must have walked up on a drug deal gone wrong, and others speculating that a disturbed person shot them for no reason.
An unanswered questionThe central unanswered question in the case is why the girls were killed. With no apparent motive in the killings, many locals wonder aloud about that issue. So far, they haven't had much help finding an answer. At a news conference Friday, Brown expressed a new level of optimism about the case. The case is "absolutely solvable,” she said. "We're gonna find 'em. It's just a matter of time.” Authorities continue to speculate that the killer or killers were local residents. But Friday morning, OSBI Special Agent Ben Rosser said authorities are expanding their investigation to include Oklahoma City, Seminole and Tulsa. At least 14 agents are working the case near Weleetka, Brown said.
What are residents saying?Calvin Winn, 29, who lives in a trailer just over a mile from the site of the shootings, said he still won't let his four young children away from home. They stay inside and flip between TV news about the case and cartoons. Friday's news offers some hope for a more normal life, he said, and it is nice to be able to feel like you can do something to help. "It gives me an idea of who to look for now, or to watch for,” he said. "We'll maybe help find this guy — see him and give police a tip.” Dale Crawford, 72, said he thinks authorities will find the killer or killers. But gaps in the case still worry him. "They haven't even got a motive or anything, have they?” he asked. Shauna Nelson said she hasn't slept well since Sunday. She is the mother of twin 3-year-olds, a boy and a girl, and a 9-year-old daughter. Her husband, Cody Nelson, 29, said he's startled by every noise outside their house, which is less than a mile from where the girls were found shot dead. "You can't let your guard down,” he said. "You can't relax.” But still, he added, "It does feel good to have something new.”
HOW TO HELP•The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is offering a $30,000 reward — collected partly from donations from around the world — 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.