Residents remain on edge
BY MANNY GAMALLO World Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
6/11/08 at 2:12 AM
Weleetka residents are watching their backs — and their children.
WELEETKA — This Okfuskee County community is filled with people who yearn for the safety and comfort of small-town America.
It's a small town where people know their neighbors, where they can raise wholesome families, where people feel insulated from the problems of the big cities.
All that may have changed this week, perhaps not permanently, but it has changed.
For the 1,000 or so people who live in this community, their psyche, their innocence, has been damaged by the murders of Skyla Jade Whittaker, 11, and Taylor Dawn Pascal-Placker, 13, on Sunday afternoon.
The bodies of the two, each shot several times, were found along the side of County Line Road, about three miles northeast of here.
With the killer or killers still on the loose, area residents are watching their backs — and their children.
Dora Lynam, 60, remembers growing up and roaming around as a child with never a threat of any sort of violence around her.
It was even that way for her own children, she said.
But now Lynam has grandchildren, and she shakes her head sadly as she reflects on how times have changed "with all the weirdos running around."
"You just can't let your children go out like you used to. It's scary now," Lynam said.
She said the killings perhaps will serve as a wake-up to the nation, to say that "even in a tiny town, things like this can happen."
Rancher David Bradshaw recently moved here from California "to get away from it all."
The 60-year-old Bradshaw said the slayings "definitely raise the awareness of people, that even a remote area can attract unsavory characters." At the Weleetka Hardware Store, employee Harry St. Peter is another one who moved here from California, seeking the small-town comforts and protection that Weleetka offers.
"Why would anyone do that?" asked St. Peter, 70. "There was just no reason to kill those girls."
"There was a time you didn't need to lock your doors," he said. "Life back then was not as bad as it is today. Now you have to always guard yourself."
Meanwhile, Bill Chambers, who lives near the murder scene, said the killings hit him hard, "because I'm a tender-hearted guy."
But with the thought of a killer running loose in his neighborhood, the 80-year-old Chambers offered a feisty attitude.
"I have 20 dogs, and if they get past my dogs, they still have to get past me," he said.
Darin Hebert, 21, is planning to marry Kallie Berndt, 19, and the two of them plan to live on the outskirts of town.
Hebert, who travels on weekends to sing with the gospel group "The Homesteaders," said he's going to be afraid to leave his young bride alone while he travels.
"It scares me," he said.
Like many throughout Weleetka on Tuesday, Hebert had heard that three suspects had been arrested.
That, however, turned out to be a rumor.
Manny Gamallo 581-8386