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Girls' shooting deaths shock Oklahoma town

Some residents blame meth users for the brutal crime. But investigators have no suspects, and fear reigns in Weleetka.

June 15, 2008|Justin Juozapavicius | Associated Press

WELEETKA, OKLA. — Maybe they stumbled onto a crime in progress. Perhaps they were ambushed by "drunks and dope heads." Or maybe it was some kind of thrill killing.

The slayings of two girls, ages 11 and 13, who were shot along a rural back road recently have baffled investigators and struck fear into townspeople, who are now afraid to let their children out of their sight.

"Still no motive, and I hate to say that," said Ben Rosser, an agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. "This could be some kind of random thrill killing, it could be an attempted abduction, it could be somebody that just for whatever reason had a personal motive, maybe mistaken identity or possibly they did interrupt something down near the bridge. We just don't know."

Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11, were killed last Sunday afternoon. Both had been shot in the head and chest.

The brutality has rattled this working-class community of 1,000, situated 70 miles south of Tulsa.

Weleetka has long been the type of place folks moved to to escape many of the evils of the world. But residents say methamphetamine use -- a particular scourge in small-town Oklahoma and elsewhere in the nation's heartland -- has gotten bad around here, and crime is up.

"You think you're safe anywhere, but you're not. All the thugs is moving out here too," said Jimmie Farrow, Skyla's grandfather. "It's a whole new ballgame."

Investigators said two guns were used in the killings, which suggests there were two gunmen. But beyond that, locals have been left to guess who did it and why.

"I could walk down Main Street in Weleetka and maybe pass the individual and I wouldn't know it right now," Rosser said. He added: "This should just hit to the very core of America. I just think two little girls can't go walking down a country lane road in this day and age. It's pretty sad."

Authorities are examining tire tracks, shell casings, bullets and shoe prints for clues. They said they suspected someone local was involved because the killings occurred in such an isolated area. Rosser said there was no indication that family or friends were involved but that nothing was being ruled out.

Full autopsy results have not been released, but investigators said it appears the girls were not molested. The youngsters were clothed and their bodies were found about half an hour after they began their walk.

Said Sheriff Jack Choate: "We don't know what the threat is, but if it were me, I wouldn't let my kids out walking unless there were other people around, you know, that you knew."

Children are heeding the warning.

"I'm scared to go out of my house right now," said 14-year-old Tyler Couch, who knew the victims.

The Paschal-Placker family moved here to get Taylor away from the violence in Oklahoma City, said her uncle, Joe Mosher. Skyla's family moved from Baxter Springs, Kan., outside of Joplin, Mo., for a taste of the simple life, Farrow said.

Both families thought they had found what they were looking for along an isolated country road, where the neighbors are hidden from one another by thick woods, Farrow said.

He and other neighbors said they had noticed a change in the backwoods.

There was a time, Farrow said, when he could go hunting on his property, leave his gun propped against the house, and nobody would touch it.

In the last 10 years, he has been robbed three times, he said.

The nearby dirt roads, which Skyla and Taylor walked dozens of times for sleepovers, have changed too, Farrow said.

"It just went downhill out in the country," he said. "These roads ain't nothing but drunks and dope heads on the weekends. Sometimes, you have to drive around them, they're passed out in the middle of the road."

Mosher said drugs might have played a role in the death of his niece and her friend.

"The girls might have walked up on some guys cooking dope," he said. "There's been more of that stuff going on here in the past two years."

A neighbor, Ross Padgett, said drug abuse and other crimes were worse than ever.

"Marijuana, meth, coke, you name it," he said. "A number of the meth cookers are right over in this community. They are busting them so hard in the cities, they are going rural."

He lifted his shirt to reveal a 9-millimeter pistol, saying, "I'm not worried."

He said his 10-year-old son, Dakota, armed himself with a knife when he went out to play on the family's land. The boy also has been trained to use a gun.

"I'm good with a shot," Dakota said. "I'm pretty good with almost any gun."

A reward for information leading to an arrest in the case was increased to $25,000.

Michael Grigsby, chaplain for the Sheriff's Office, called the killings "a tremendous slap in the face of reality."

"This is not supposed to happen in the heartland of America. Everyone wants to live where their kids can walk down a gravel road," Grigsby said.

"It takes a while for a community like ours to wrap our minds around it."

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