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Town tries to find normalcy

By Johnny Johnson Modified: June 17, 2008 at 7:53 pm •  Published: June 17, 2008
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WELEETKA — Residents of this rural town tried to move on Monday morning from fears that the person or people who shot and killed two girls — ages 11 and 13 — may still be in their midst.

But pictures of a man wanted in connection with the killings — possibly just as a witness — kept bringing them back to the brutal events of June 8, when Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11, were shot and killed on a backwoods road.

Last week, parents in this rural town in east-central Oklahoma huddled their kids inside. Some locked their doors for the first time. Most streets were empty.

But Monday, workers returned to jobs they had neglected. Residents tended to yard work left undone. Church camps and Bible schools were back in action.

Morning rainfall made for convenient conversation during the lunch rush at The Roundup, which is known for its inexpensive, oversized portions of deep fried fare.

Man's face haunts town
Still, through all the pleasantries, an undercurrent of fear remained. And it was one man's face — posted on the wall of the restaurant, and all around town — that could rekindle the fright in a second.

He's the only man authorities have pegged with any connection to the murders. They released a sketch of his face on Friday. Despite the fact that he's not wanted as a suspect, the unknown man has become a ubiquitous and feared figure.

And authorities have yet to talk with him in connection with the deaths of the girls.

His unblinking cold stare just wouldn't let things get back to normal.

"We're trying,” said Nelson Harjo, who brought his family to a makeshift shrine for the victims that has grown at the spot where they died. But it's gonna take a while to heal from this. Whenever I travel this road now, I get an eerie feeling. It's cold ... like death.”

Some worry about safety
Harjo, who works at nearby Sand Creek Church, said he was planning on taking a group of boys to church camp this week, but after Taylor and Skyla were gunned down last Sunday, he said he wasn't sure how many boys would actually show up for camp.

"It's really kind of iffy if we'll get any,” he said. "And, as for me, personally? I don't know that I'd let my kids go if they were old enough.”

Jaki Martin, with First Baptist Church in Dustin, a few miles south of the Graham school that Skyla and Taylor attended, said she was having a similar reaction with vacation Bible school this week.

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Eldon Kelough talks about how Weleetka is trying to get back to normal after the slayings of Taylor Paschal-Placker and her friend Skyla Whitaker. BY David McDaniel, THE OKLAHOMAN

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