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Weleetka arrest creates false hope

By Hailey R. Branson and Johnny Johnson Modified: June 18, 2008 at 12:41 am •  Published: June 18, 2008
WELEETKA — Since his 13-year-old niece and her best friend were gunned down and left on the side of a county road June 8, Joe Mosher and his family have spent a lot of time glued to the TV, praying the unknown shooters would be caught.

Tuesday morning, it looked like those prayers had finally been answered as a TV report indicated a man police called a person of interest in the shooting deaths of Taylor Paschal-Placker and Skyla Whitaker was in custody. But the closure the families had been hoping for soon crumbled when it became clear the news reports were based on a false claim.

"We thought they caught the guy,” Mosher said. "We thought they had him in custody. It was right there on the TV — breaking news. It turns out, they had nothing. It was really kind of heartbreaking for us.”

The family's false hope stemmed from what police called a domestic situation that began at the Weleetka Middle and High School. Officers said the man, later identified as Russell Neiley of Weleetka, had a bolt-action rifle in his pickup and was threatening to take his life.

What happened?
When Superintendent Dan Parrish started getting phone calls about a hostage incident Tuesday morning, he said he didn't know what reporters were talking about.

"Everyone's edgy,” Parrish said. "They want to find this guy. We all want to get it to a conclusion. It's pretty scary.”

Police received a call Tuesday morning reporting a domestic disturbance at the Weleetka school where Neiley was apparently dropping off one of his daughters.

"He was upset and said he was going to kill himself,” Okfuskee County Undersheriff Darrell Summers said.

Weleetka resident Gary Ogle, like dozens of other concerned community members following the hunt for a killer, heard the events unfold on his police scanner.

"They were definitely excited,” Ogle said. "They thought they had the guy, but that turned out not to be the case.”

Ogle said the town started buzzing immediately, and someone even called his wife and warned her to stay away from the school.

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