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Questions still remain in Short family case
Area businesses’ signs, such as the above sign at Friday’s Deli, kept up public awareness that Jennifer Short was missing in the weeks before her remains were found Aug. 15, 2002.
Monday, August 20, 2012
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Several factors continue to hinder investigators working to solve the Short family slayings that were discovered 10 years ago on Aug. 15, 2002.
Michael and Mary Short were found shot to death in their home in Oak Level along the northside of U.S. 220, “a major four lane highway,” Henry County Sheriff’s Capt. Kimmy Nester said.
“There are a lot of vehicles traveling through that portion of road, particularly those going northward, but most people traveling by really don’t pay much attention to it because they are staying focused” on the road and the slight curve just beyond the home, Nester said.
The area adjacent to the home is mainly commercial, and at the time, included a motel with “some occupants, and a store that is situated away from residence,” Nester said. He noted a flea market and radio station are across the road.
“It’s not a typical neighborhood, where someone either heard something or knew a particular routine,” and noticed something out of the ordinary, according to Nester, who was one of the lead investigators on the case. He has continued to work on it through the years.
Mary and Michael Short both died from single gunshot wounds to their heads. Their daughter, Jennifer Short, 9, was missing.
Nester recalled that the “original call came early in the morning of Aug. 15, when a worker, Chris Thompson,” found Michael Short “unresponsive and lying on a couch.”
Authorities were told that Thompson “was honking the horn and hollering at Mr. Short” that morning, but got no response.
After getting out of his vehicle and going to the house, Thompson reported seeing what appeared to be blood on Michael Short’s forehead, and authorities were summoned, Nester said.
The first two officers at the scene found Michael Short’s body on a sofa in a semi-enclosed carport, according to Nester and previous reports.
Entering the home from the carport, officers first walked into a kitchen area and then into a bedroom, where they found Mary Short in bed, Nester said. She also was dead.
Continuing the search, officers walked down a hallway to Jennifer Short’s bedroom, Nester said.
“They found no child. Jennifer was not to be found inside the house, and it appeared that she had been removed from her bed rather quickly,” he said.
A family member who worked in the jail “provided us with quick information that there should be a mother and a child there, (but) we could not find Jennifer,” Nester said.
“Basically by observation, it looked like the bed was disturbed between mattress and box springs, and it appeared where she would have been sleeping had been disturbed,” Nester said. He surmised “someone removed her quickly.”
The telephone lines into the home had been cut, he said.
“Whoever the individual was had put some preplanning into it (the crime),” Nester said.
As other officers arrived at the scene, searches were conducted of the immediate area, including both levels of the home and other nearby structures, Nester said.
The search expanded as additional personnel arrived at the scene, and many officers hoped that because school was out, Jennifer would be found with a relative or a friend, Nester said. Eventually, an Amber Alert was issued for the child who was presumed abducted by her parents’ killer or killers.
A massive number of local, regional and national media outlets responding to the scene helped spread word of the missing child, he said.
He speculated the offender or offenders “came in quickly, shot Mr. Short — shot him while he lay on the couch,” Nester said. They were “then able to get into the house quickly, and obviously, they moved quick enough in the house that they didn’t wake up Mrs. Short.”
After shooting her, the perpetrator(s) “moved quickly down the hall to where the child was, and apparently, it appeared, quickly got out of the residence,” he said.
“I think the motive, we have to presume is the child, but we’ve tried to look at everything and tried to not have tunnel vision,” Nester said.
Jennifer’s remains were found about six weeks later by a dog in the Grogan Road area of Rockingham County, N.C.
A stretcher held the remains as forensic scientists worked to “see what all fit into place,” Nester said. “That image is etched in your memory forever.”
After the tests were conducted, Nester recalled the press conference that was held to announce the news that everyone dreaded.
“I’ll never forget any of us that were there, reporters or law enforcement,” Nester said. “We all were wishing ... and you could see that everybody had in their heart the hope that it wouldn’t be but ....”
The remains were confirmed to be Jennifer’s, and tests showed that she also died from a single gunshot wound to the head.
“There was a tear in your eye. You were shocked that the worst thing that could have happened happened,” he said. “As far as I know, this was the most violent child abduction at the time. There was nothing to compare it with, and I still don’t know of anything.”
“From my perspective in law enforcement, when a crime like this happens in your community, you do what you’re supposed to do, but officers have emotions, too, (and many) questions still remain today,” he said.
“(They are) questions of not only who, but what I want to know is why, and what in the world would make a human being harm a child in any way shape or form like this,” Nester said. “Who would come here and do this, and why? Those questions haunt you every day.”
Rewards are available for information related to the Short family slayings.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Henry County Sheriff’s Office at 638-8751, or Crime Stoppers at 63-CRIME (632-7463).