Police focus on several people in search for missing girl

Thursday, August 22, 2002

COLLINSVILLE, Va. -- Authorities investigating the disappearance of a 9-year-old girl missing for nearly a week say they are looking strongly at several people but have no concrete evidence tying anyone to the case.

Meanwhile, relatives of the girl's father, killed along with his wife at their Bassett home last week, said they were gathering up a reward for the girl's return and pleaded with her captors to let her go.

"She doesn't deserve to be going through whatever she's going through right now," Frank Arrington, great-uncle of Jennifer Short, said at a morning briefing Wednesday. "Please do the right thing and bring her back to her family."

Just before Arrington spoke, Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell said that authorities have "some people that we're looking real strongly at. But we have no concrete evidence."

"We're looking at anyone, but we're looking more strongly right now at people who aren't family members," he added. "We're looking at more than one."

Cassell also said several reported sightings of Jennifer accompanied by a man with a gun in North Carolina Tuesday have not panned out. Those reports have prompted a flurry of calls and tips that are being checked, he said.

At the sheriff's evening briefing Wednesday, Cassell said a search of wooded areas near the Short's home failed to result in any discoveries.

Michael Short, 50, and his wife, Mary, 36, were found dead Thursday in their red-brick ranch home on busy U.S. 220 about 35 miles south of Roanoke. An autopsy report Wednesday confirmed they died from gunshot wounds.

Dr. William Massello, assistant chief medical examiner in Roanoke, would not discuss the type of weapon used or the number of shots fired. He also said the time of deaths were not be determined.

At a wake Wednesday night at the Martinsville Church of God, hundreds of family members and friends filed past the open caskets containing the Shorts. Mourners hugged and cried as they viewed the bodies.

Outside the sanctuary, a church bulletin board had the message: "Jesus loves little children of the world. Pray for Jennifer."

Funeral services are scheduled for Thursday.

Police initially thought Jennifer fled into the woods after the shootings but then concluded that she was snatched from her bed by whoever killed her parents.

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