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Short case: 11 years later
Tressi Young and Lt. Curtis Spence with the Henry County Sheriff’s Office stand in front of a poster asking for information on the Short case. The poster has been in the office’s lobby since shortly after the case began. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Thursday, August 15, 2013
By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin Staff Writer
With multiple persons of interest in the 11-year-old unsolved shooting deaths of Jennifer Short and her parents, Mary and Michael Short, old evidence in the case may be subjected to some new tests as the search for a killer continues.
At this point in the investigation, “we are keeping an open mind” about who killed the family, Henry County Sheriff’s Lt. Curtis Spence said. “No one has been ruled out, and there are multiple persons of interest,” he said.
Spence declined to elaborate.
He said a person of interest is “someone we have received information on that we decided to continue the investigation into their background.”
Authorities also “are looking into doing some different tests with some of the old evidence we do have. Some was sent to the state lab in Roanoke, and some will be sent to the lab in Quantico,” said Spence, who is working virtually full-time on the case.
Eleven years ago today, Aug. 15, 2002, the bodies of Michael and Mary Short were found in their Oak Level home.
“We would rather be celebrating birthdays, but” the focus is always on the day it happened, said Tressi Young, Mary Short’s niece and Jennifer Short’s cousin.
She and her family plan to spend today “just spending time together. We will talk about it, but it’s still an emotional time” whenever the subject comes up, Young said of the deaths.
Michael Short was on a sofa in the garage of the home with a single gunshot wound to his head. His wife Mary Short was found lying in bed, also with a single gunshot wound to the head. Their 9-year-old daughter, Jennifer, was missing and believed to have been abducted by her parents’ killer or killers, police have said.
Jennifer’s remains were found Sept. 25 along a stream bed off Grogan Road in Stoneville (Rockingham County), N.C. She, too, died from a gunshot wound to the head.
Young recalled that the last time she saw Jennifer, the youngster was trying to earn money to buy a camera and had gone with Young to help dig potatoes out of a garden.
“She was so excited” to be working, Young said of Jennifer.
Spence had a different memory.
“I was probably among the first officers on the scene,” Spence said. “I got there at 9:35 the morning the bodies were found. At the time that I got there, we had just found out the little girl was missing. Trying to find her alive was the highest priority we had. We already knew her mother and father had died, and we were just concentrating on trying to find that child alive.”
As he collected evidence at the Short home and in the yard and other areas around it, Spence said “what was going through my mind was the fear of what had happened to this child. Where is this child, and not knowing where the person of interest could be, and not knowing if something similar” had happened in another area of the county.
Whenever information came in that Jennifer might be close by the home “or there was any possibility of finding Jennifer, I would be called, along with a couple other investigators” to check areas around the house for Jennifer, he said.
“I bet you I walked 50 miles around that place that day,” he said.
Like many officers involved in the early days of the investigation, Spence said, “I couldn’t even tell you how many days I went without sleep. It was a couple of days at least. But many officers were up for two or three days without rest. It wasn’t just me. A lot of guys stayed up working on the investigation and trying to find Jennifer,” he said.
When asked if he thought the case would be resolved with an arrest, Spence said, “I wouldn’t be working the job I am now” and searching for the killer “if I didn’t think it would be solved. I just pray to the Lord that it will be solved.”
Seeking justice for the dead is a priority, but “getting closure for the family also is a priority right now,” Spence said. He added that he feels progress is being made, with some new evidence recently tested.
“We had some guns checked out at the state lab,” he said. Nothing beneficial to the Short investigation was found, and “we’ve not had anything to indicate any of those guns were involved.”
However, “we’ve had more calls about the case this last year than we had in the past four years combined. I don’t know the reason,” he said, but speculated the 10th anniversary may have made the case more prominent in the hearts and minds of residents, and that prompted the calls.
“But I really don’t know. I’m just thankful that we are still getting calls on the case,” Spence said. “I know that we are doing our part, and the community is doing its part, in keeping the case out in the public. We maintain media contact,” especially near the anniversary of the deaths, and “the bike ride was last weekend,” he said of the Jennifer Short Memorial Scholarship Bike/Car Ride on Sunday.
“We’ve received several calls just since Sunday. I had about four messages waiting on me Monday when I got into the office,” Spence said. “So no, we’re not giving up.”
Anyone with any information about the Short family’s deaths is encouraged to call authorities, and rewards are available for information that results in the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible for the slayings.
Call the Henry County Sheriff’s Office at 638-8751, or Crime Stoppers at 63-CRIME (632-7463).