National search launched for vanished Virginia girl

Saturday, August 17, 2002

BASSETT, Va. -- Authorities launched a nationwide search Friday for 9-year-old Jennifer Short, who vanished from the western Virginia home where her parents were shot to death.

"With every hour that goes by, I'm afraid the situation will get ever more drastic," said Kimmy Nester, a Henry County sheriff's captain. He pleaded: "If you are a captor, please release her."

The bodies of Michael Short, 50, and Mary Short, 36, were found early Thursday after a co-worker stopped by the home 35 miles south of Roanoke.

Michael Short, a self-employed mobile home mover, was found on a couch in an enclosed carport; his wife was found in a bedroom. Both had been shot in the head, and police said it didn't appear to be a murder-suicide.

Jennifer, a brown-haired fourth-grader, was nowhere to be found.

Authorities initially thought the girl might have run away during the shootings. But when she didn't turn up, they issued an Amber Alert, relaying information about the case to television and radio stations in the hope of finding her.

Police officers searched the rolling hills behind the family's house, and were joined Friday by helicopters, search dogs and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Lt. Cliff Roop said the co-worker who found Michael Short's body, Christopher Thompson, was questioned as authorities tried to learn whether Short had worked with any "disgruntled people."

Real estate agent Marlene Dalton said the Shorts had asked her Aug. 5 to put their house up for sale.

"Mr. Short said business was just slow," Dalton said. "He said, 'I've got a trailer of my own and we're going to move and live in that for a while.'"

Authorities said they were going through records of people who had recently been in the red brick home on U.S. 220, a busy north-south highway.

Close family

The Shorts were a tight-knit family, friends said.

Jennifer was shy and polite and stuck close to her parents when she wasn't in school or playing softball on a local parks and recreation team, said Valerie Spradlin, who has known the family for 10 years.

"Her daddy was always trying to go out and be there at her games even though he was working so hard," Spradlin said. "They were just plain, ordinary people. I don't know why anyone would want to kill them."

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