Search continues for Virginia girl

Sunday, August 18, 2002

BASSETT, Va. -- Volunteers combing the area's rolling hills for signs of a missing 9-year-old girl whose parents were found shot to death found no evidence and ended their search Saturday, officials said.

Two days of scouring the area near the family's home on foot, all-terrain vehicles and in cars found no traces of Jennifer Short, said Richard Cox, head of the Old Dominion Search and Rescue team.

"Frankly, we need to keep looking," a weary Cox said Saturday as he strained to hold back tears. "But realistically and logically, putting all the evidence together over the past couple days, we don't have a direction to look in."

Police believe Jennifer Short was abducted early Thursday morning when her parents, Michael and Mary Short, were each shot once in the head. Police were notified after a co-worker of Michael Short, 50, found his body in an enclosed carport around 9 a.m.

Henry County Sheriff's deputies later found the body of Mary Short, 36, in the bedroom. No weapon was found and there was no sign of their daughter; authorities quickly ruled out the possibility that Jennifer shot her parents and ran away.

At an evening briefing, Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell said police believe Jennifer was taken from her bed. He also said new photos of Jennifer, taken this summer and depicting her with shorter hair, had been released.

Cassell said police believe the crime was committed "by someone who knew this family and knew their way around." He gave few details, saying there were no suspects but that at least one new search warrant would be requested.

Police initially thought Jennifer hid in the hills behind the home during the shootings, but when she didn't turn up, authorities issued an Amber Alert, transmitting information about the missing child to law enforcement agencies and media across the country.

A team of trained volunteers and about 150 area residents searched the area around the clock since the alert was issued.

State police were continuing their search of a 20- to 50-mile radius around the Shorts' home Saturday, assisted by sheriff's deputies from several counties and at least four FBI agents, Cassell said.

The man who found Michael Short's body, a laborer who had worked for Short's mobile home moving business and the last to see the family alive on Wednesday night, was questioned and released the day of the slayings, police said.

Cassell said police have interviewed dozens of people, but it has been difficult locating many of Short's former employees because many were transient, short-term workers.

The Shorts had recently put their home up for sale, and Cassell said they were checking people who had been by to look at it.

As the search for her granddaughter stretched into its third day, Margaret Hall stayed close to the radio and television at her home in the hills above Callaway, Va., about 30 miles from where her daughter and son-in-law lived. Hall, 71, remembered when she last saw her daughter and granddaughter at a family cookout two weeks ago.

"She was my baby one. She will always be my baby," Hall said.

Elmer Hall, Mary Hall's brother, said the Shorts had no known enemies, no major debts and that authorities told him his brother-in-law still had $60 in his wallet when he was found.

"It wasn't a robbery," he said.

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