Slayings Shock Weleetka, Okla.
SCOTT SIMON, host:
The shooting deaths last weekend of two young girls in Weleetka, Oklahoma remain unsolved and unexplained. Bodies of 11-year-old Skyla Whitaker and 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker were found near Taylor's home on Sunday shortly after the girls went for a late-afternoon walk. They were buried yesterday. Scott Gurian of member-station KGOU visited Weleetka, population 1,014, where he found a tight-knit community struggling to come to terms with an incomprehensible crime.
SCOTT GURIAN: Weleetka is the kind of town where neighbors often wave to each other as they pass on the rugged back roads. The side of the unmarked dirt-and-gravel road where Taylor and Skyla were murdered has become the site of a makeshift shrine of stuffed animals and flower arrangements.
Elizabeth Ward(ph) has stopped off with her granddaughter to pay their respects and leave their contribution: a set of wooden apples, which they say is symbolic of the Garden of Eden and the innocence that existed in this community just one week ago.
Ms. ELIZABETH WARD (Resident, Weleetka, Oklahoma): I actually grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. That's why this shocks me because I never even seen anything like this growing up, and I mean, I grew up in a rough neighborhood, but moving out here, I moved my son out here, up and around Weleetka, and I bring my grandkids down to play, and I just never would have thought.
GURIAN: Family members described 13-year-old Taylor Paschal-Placker as shy and reserved, a straight-A student who rescued turtles from the road near her home. She'd write her name on their shells with a black magic marker before turning them loose.
Skyla Whitaker was two years younger, carefree and outgoing. She walked nearly everywhere barefoot, followed by her cats and pet goat. By all accounts, the two were inseparable. Their deaths have hit people hard in this small town.
Janice England(ph) works as a florist and has spent the past few days preparing arrangements for the girls' families. She says everyone's been on edge.
Ms. JANICE ENGLAND (Florist, Weleetka, Oklahoma): There's people that want to tell you: Guess who told me her nephew was involved, and hey, there's four of them, and two of them are graduates from Weleetka, and one of them was in Henrietta, and his mother turned him in because he was bragging about it on his cell phone and things like that, and the gossip is everywhere, but you can't go by that stuff.
GURIAN: Instead, England says she's taking a wait-and-see approach, and while people continue to wait for answers, they're doing whatever they can to help. Students from Graham School, where the girls attended, have placed donation jars in nearby businesses to raise money for the families. There's a bake sale planned, and a local bar is holding an auction.
At the town's bank, accounts supervisor Rabeena Peters(ph) says donations have been pouring in from across the country and as far away as Germany and Japan.
Ms. RABEENA PETERS (Accounts Supervisor, Weleetka, Oklahoma): We had to get a couple of young ladies to come in and help us answer the phone because we literally could not do our work here in the bank. I mean, it kept all of us busy, and those girls sit there all day long answering the phone.
GURIAN: In addition to the memorial funds for the families, the bank has also opened a reward account. Currently, authorities are offering $25,000 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of those responsible for the shooting. Townspeople hope that by raising that amount even higher, they might be able to help find the killer or killers. For NPR News, I'm Scott Gurian.
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