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Lack of Leads Frustrates Families of 2 Teen-Age Girls Shot to Death : Pennsylvania: No witnesses, weapon, motive or suspects have been found since the June slayings, despite a $63,000 reward fund.

December 03, 1995|CASEY COMBS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Mary Orlando could better understand what happened if her daughter had been raped before she was murdered.

The pain affects Joan Grider no less: She has forced herself to visit the scenic overlook where her daughter was gunned down, hoping for a revelation.

"I used to sit here for the longest time just by myself and think and think and think. There's a million ifs," she said.

Five months have passed since Mary Orlando, 15, and Jennifer Grider, 17, were shot dead as they settled on the hill above Lehigh University to eat the takeout food they had just bought at a nearby stand.

Police have no suspect. No motive. No weapon. No witnesses. The community remains puzzled and distraught over the loss of the energetic, popular girls.

"You'd think they would've been raped," said Mary Orlando, the mother of the teen-ager with the same name. Both murder and rape are obviously horrible crimes, she said, "but at least there would be something there."

Desperate for clues, the Grider family is turning to psychics and is considering calling "Unsolved Mysteries," the TV show.

"Right now, I feel, well, it's something," Grider said.

Investigators have ruled out some possibilities. Bethlehem Police Capt. Herbert Goldfeder said police still do not know whether the girls were shot by an acquaintance or a stranger. The girls had no criminal histories, no drug connections.

Jennifer's mother was the last in her family of six to see her daughter on the day of the killings. That was June 29. Jennifer had come home hungry from her summer job serving meals in a nursing home.

As a treat, her mother told Jennifer she could drive the family's new red Camaro. Jennifer yelled this news across her back yard to her friend Mary.

After driving Joan Grider, the mother, to work at a home for mentally handicapped children, the girls stopped at the drive-through of the "39-Cent Hamburger Stand." Her mother guesses that Jennifer probably ordered her favorite: chili cheese fries.

The girls then headed to "The Lookout," a 50-foot stretch of stone ledge along a winding, wooded road to the campus, which is just up the street from their neighborhood of tightly packed row houses.

The road widens a little at the ledge, just enough for cars to pull over and stop for a view of the town. Bethlehem is a picturesque and historic steel town of about 71,000 cradled in the Lehigh River Valley about 47 miles north of Philadelphia.

The girls got out of the car and sat on the ledge with their food. They apparently did not have time to take it out of the bags.

Grider believes Jennifer was shot twice and fell onto a grassy rise just in front of the wall before the drop. Orlando believes Mary was shot once and managed to crawl inside the car, where she apparently bled to death.

Neither knows for sure. Police have not told the families the number or locations of the wounds, the type of gun, what the girls were wearing or even what food they had ordered.

Goldfeder will confirm only the location of the bodies and say the girls were shot just before 10 p.m.

Northampton County Coroner Zachary Lysek would confirm nothing.

Both said they feared such details would jeopardize the investigation.

The lookout is not a spot known for crime, Goldfeder said.

"It is a nice place to go just to sit out and look at the city lights," he said.

The girls' decision to eat there apparently was spur of the moment, Grider said, so nobody with a grudge against them would have known to go there.

The mothers are left only with speculation:

Maybe the girls spotted some illegal activity in the woods down the slope; maybe they angered another driver and were followed to the lookout; maybe a Lehigh student went crazy from stress.

Grider says she doesn't want to say, as other parents might, that the girls were "perfect little angels."

"They were typical teen-agers," she said. "They had fun. . . . But they were never trouble. I don't think Jenny even had a detention."

The girls' lifelong friend and neighbor, Maureen Brett, 18, said they had no enemies--only many, many friends.

Blond, athletic Jen, a senior at Bethlehem Catholic High, was trying to earn money for Penn State University, where she planned to major in occupational therapy.

Slim, dark-haired Mary, a junior at Freedom High, was an assistant dance instructor who dreamed of fame in New York.

At the mere mention of the case, Brett's hands tremble and her eyes well up with tears of sorrow and frustration.

"The police should have found something by now," she said. "Nobody can understand. They were great girls."

The concern the killings have generated in the community has not fully sifted onto the campus.

Students talked about the deaths at the beginning of the year but did not seem particularly worried, said Grete Haentjens, editor of the student newspaper.

"I was surprised a bit at how little reaction there was," she said.

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