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Police Briefing on Murdered Virginia Couple

Aired August 16, 2002 - 08:59   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to get you straightaway to West Virginia -- western Virginia, in the town of Bassett, in the missing thought to be abduction case of a 9-year-old girl there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As soon as the fog lifts, an aerial chopper, helicopter from Virginia State Police will be this the area. We will do another aerial search. There have been foot searches and four- wheeler searches by a volunteer organization known as the Old Dominion Search and Rescue Group, who worked late yesterday afternoon and throughout the dark and early morning hours again.

We basically have searched the area initially with a visual helicopter. The area was searched with canine units. The area was searched with land personnel, law enforcement, and then the search- and-rescue personnel have searched behind us.

We have no significant sightings of the missing child, Jennifer Renee Short.

We still need assistance of media and the public in looking for anywhere that she may be sighted. Our investigation is extensive. It is a nationwide manhunt for the person who apparently has abducted her and took her away from her home here. Both parents were found shot yesterday. Both have died from the apparent gunshot wound, a single one to each of their heads. An autopsy is being conducted this morning in Roanoke, Virginia at the state medical examiner's office.

I'd like to urge you to let you know that the preliminary investigation says there is only one single gunshot wound. The ME does a more detailed searched at the medical examiner's office. At this time it appears only one. However, we'll let you know what final result is from the autopsy.

We'll have an extensive search here today. We will maintain our vigil here at the house. We have another command center in which the investigators working out of it gives us an office a work club here. Investigators can be dispatched to various tasks, can use the office for interviews, and we can consult with one another. This still remains major crime scene and major command post here. We will try to give you briefings throughout the day. We will try to accommodate all media the best we can he, but the most critical aspect of our investigation is we are still in search of the whereabouts of Jennifer Renee Short, age 9, white female 4,'3" tall and 58 pounds. She has brown hair. We released a photograph yesterday of her. If you do not have a photograph, if you let me know. we will try to accommodate the news media. But you have been gracious in reporting here out early on, in an Amber Alert, and as far as we know we have assistance, we have been had multiple agencies here. We have had another agencies, around us offering their assistance. We have been aided by mutual aid from different agencies. Our investigation is massive at this time, and will continue to be so until we determine the whereabouts of Jennifer.

QUESTION: She's been missing now 24 hours. How difficult does that make your search?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As every hour in each day goes by, it becomes extremely more difficult, and also, more likely that harm may occur. We would like to put a plea out to anyone who may have abducted her, if she is not been harmed, and she is alive and well, if you will release her, in a public area, and notify law enforcement personnel of her whereabouts, so we can take her back into our custody, and see that she is released back to her family safe. We are optimistic but that is an option that does exist. We are still putting out a plea to anyone who may be associated with these homicides and her abduction, if you are her captors, please release her.

At the same time, we are searching in the event that harm has occurred, we are searching any and all areas. The search is in this immediate area, but I want to indicate that it's not only countywide, it's a nationwide search. All resources of the FBI are available, all resources of Virginia State Police, all resources of our agency and agency that are joining us are being utilized in our manhunt for whoever it is, who we do not know at this time. We do not have a direct suspect or suspects that we are in search of.

We are in search of information. Anyone who is familiar with the family through news media, if you have been here, in the last week or been by seen anybody here, or any vehicles in the drive way or pulling out, we need to talk to you.

A timeline indicates that the family was believed to be OK, alive and well at this residence from 7:00 p.m. to about 12:00, and they were discovered around 9:00 a.m. yesterday's date deceased, and Jennifer was discovered missing from the home.

QUESTION: How much has that national Amber Alert helped? I mean, have you been getting a lot of calls?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There have been some calls generated. We've had been able to follow those up through our agency and the other agencies assisting us, and none of them, fortunately, have been founded in no negative harm has occurred.

But we don't want to discourage anybody. If you think you have had a sighting of her, know anything that will help us, we don't care whether you live in Texas, California, or live in our immediate county, wherever you are. if you think you've seen sighting of this young child, please call your local police. Your immediate call to 911 could be critical. It could name part of puzzle that we need. There are parts of puzzle that don't fit at this time. We are continuing to strive to work diligently to try to put the puzzle together.

QUESTION: Is there anything that you can say about what you are looking for in the person?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The home is recently for sale. The family here has put their home up just recently for sale.

QUESTION: How many people been through the house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have records from the realtors, and those are being pursued in the investigation.

QUESTION: Could you talk about type person that you are looking for? Is there any particular traits or qualities this abductor may have?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are checking various avenues and working with the FBI to check the aspects of what type perpetrator or perpetrators we would be looking for. Like I said, I'm not going to elaborate on what resources we are using.

But fortunately, you can see here, we are dealing with double homicide and a kidnapping, so certainly, we are dealing with somebody that certainly is a violent in nature, and could somewhat be disturbed.

QUESTION: Could you say that could you say that she is related, that somehow this person knows her or was related to her in any way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said earlier, it is highly likely that the residents here and the victims, that whoever perpetrated these crimes knew and was familiar with the residents and the occupants, including Jennifer. As I said, that is likely and believed to be possible.

QUESTION: Do you know how the perpetrators got away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No vehicles are on the premises are believed to belong to any perpetrators. We do not have any information to give you regarding any suspects or suspect vehicles at this time. As soon as we get any such information, it will be immediately relayed to the news media.

Brothers and sifters have been nearby, and outside of the Bannegard (ph) area, but -- and spoken briefly with authorities here, but we have had extensive contact with family members on both sides, but the families indicate that they are in shock, they have no idea why it's occurred, and they have no earthly idea where Jennifer may be found.

QUESTION: How extensive is the search going to be this morning? You have had about 50 to a hundred deputies doing foot search yesterday. Is that going to continue today?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The immediate area is a residence here on each sides of 220, and the wooded areas in the thickets that we could find and any vehicle, abandoned vehicles, or structures that we need to check. However, we are here adjoining Franklin County.

So actually our search,the extensive search, would certainly include Franklin County and Henry County, but we have investigators yesterday and again today doing a multitude of tasks. That includes searching for people who are potential witnesses who are can give us information about the family, so we have investigators that are here and there doing various tasks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We fall back to one of her aunts or uncles on either side. Certainly, if we were able to find her, we will have her checked for her medical well-being, and at that time, we will deal with the Department of Social Services, regarding her release.

But we are optimistic, that we a chance to find her, through the aid of news media and public, and the news media and public has been gracious in trying to help us, but we ask that you continue to stay on board with us, and promote this, as a very serious case, and put her picture out there. And if we get tips that lead us to a region or an area, we will alert you, so it may further alert the media in that area to have a high priority than what we have now.

QUESTION: How much is the weather, the rain...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The fog this morning is, again, hindering the helicopter coming. It is coming. We have got to wait for the fog to lift from the immediate area. Yesterday, the helicopter had to be pulled away because of thunderstorms that developed. It's not hurt us. It's not been a major setback, but it has certainly not helped in the investigation.

QUESTION: Could you -- just to clarify, we are talking about two head wounds, but only one confirmed act shot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only thing that we will release, limited details about the homicide, or the kidnapping, or abduction, as you may call it, are being released. The reason for that would be anybody that might be a potential witness or a potential suspect. We need to know whether information is direct information, or whether they received that information from rumors on the street or through news media, so we are going to be limited on details.

I have said, and the only thing I will say, that is both victims were shot in the head, and both victims appear to be shot apparently one time. An autopsy will reveal whether there are any further wounds beyond the ones that we have listed.

We have at this hour no immediate information to release to you, other than what we have been releasing, that who she is, and she is missing, and we are still searching for her.

QUESTION: Is there any evidence that this could be more than one suspect? I know you said there are single gunshot wounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to consider any crime of this magnitude, that it's likely that a single person could commit it, but it's also highly like he that more than one person could have been here. That could include any scenario from one person committing a crime, and the other one driving the person away, or two people or more persons participating.

So we are not focusing on any one theory. We are open to anything, at this time until we can determine exactly what did happen at this residence.

HEMMER: Bassett, Virginia, the press conference there very few new details about this case. The facts, as we know it, 9-year-old Jennifer Short is missing. Her parents, age 36 and age 50, found shot in their home, a single gunshot to the head sometime between midnight last night and 9:00 a.m. East coast time earlier today, about a nine hour gap, and many people will tell you, whenever there is a case of an abduction of a missing child, those first few hours are very precious. Jennifer is described as 4-feet 3-inches tall, 58 pounds, has brown hair.

We heard the officer there talking in Bassett about the high probability, the likelihood, is the word he used, about someone either knowing the family, knowing the surroundings, and possibly knowing all three members in this story.

An Amber Alert has been issued there in Virginia, and a few weeks ago, very few people knew even about the Amber Alert System. Now we know of its successes, that it has helped law enforcement across the country track down abducted children. In fact, already this week we saw it work to great success.

Authorities in California say issuing the Alert helped track down 4-year-old Jessica Cortez. Police in Texas, similar praise when they found month-old Nancy Chavez on Wednesday.


SGT. KIM VICKERS, POLICE DEPARTMENT, ABILENE, TEXAS: There were some factors in Quanah that led to the car being stopped, but another part of that we have learned was due to the regional information that was put out through that Amber Alert System, so we do feel like the Amber Alert System deserves a lot of credit in this information getting out this quickly and in the fact that we were able to get this baby back as soon as we were.


HEMMER: In some parts of the country, 14 states in fact, they have that alert system on their roadsides flashing information on suspects.

Is there a danger, though, the system could become overused and possibly ignored by the public? That is one issue we are going to take up Now with Marc Klaas, child safety advocate, whose own daughter, Polly, was kidnapped and murdered -- Marc, good to have you back with us. Good morning to you.


HEMMER: I mentioned this nine-hour period, sometime between midnight and 9:00 a.m., and you well know that the early hours -- heck, we saw it in Texas, in Abilene for crying out loud, a period of 12 seconds, when a woman lost her baby, abducted right out of her minivan. How critical is it right now, and how can the Amber Alert help the folks now, in the western part of Virginia?

KLAAS: Well, this is an extremely alarming story. I mean the parents have been murdered. Seventy-four -- 73 percent of the children that are murdered as a result of a predatory kidnapping are murdered within the first three hours, so any information that can be gotten out through the media, and law enforcement to the public is going to assist in this case. I don't think that you can overuse or overextend any resource in a situation like this.

HEMMER: But in this case, Marc, you would admit that the circumstances are different, and if that is the case though, can the Amber Alert be worked to true effectiveness here?

KLAAS: You know, Bill, the circumstances have been different in every one of these cases since Danielle van Dam. It is just absolutely extraordinary, the depths that can be reached in some of these situations.

The Amber Alert should -- should be activated very quickly. It should be activated within the first couple of hours because the whole point of it is that as an emergency system, using the Emergency Alert System, to create a perimeter around kidnappers from which they cannot -- which they cannot penetrate, so that we can contain them, and return the children alive. I think if we are waiting 12, 14, 24 hours before we activate them, we are defeating the purpose of them.

What we can do, though, is we can use regularly scheduled news broadcasts to inform the public of these situations. Certainly the radio stations generally do that every hour, or every half hour, or on a continual basis, and television stations, particularly cable news stations, are doing that on a regular basis as well.

HEMMER: You know, Marc, the sad irony about this conversation we are having is that we actually booked you on the program to talk about the Amber Alert going nationwide, and here we are discussing another case, this one in Virginia. I know you are a strong advocate of taking this program across the country. You have talked about it with me on this program in the past. What right now inhibits this from going -- not just from 14 states, but possibly to all 50?

KLAAS: Well, I think the thing that inhibits it are state boundaries because everybody is talking about state-based systems, and if you do that, and you are not -- you are not taking into account the state boundaries, you are not going to really serve the needs of the children. You know, not everybody lives within the strict confines of a state.

If somebody is on a border area, for instance, in Crescent City, California, if they were to cross over into Oregon which is just a few miles, and nobody in Oregon has been notified, you are not going to serve the needs of the children, as we said a couple weeks ago, Bill, and we in fact have signed up with the state of Texas with our plan "Beyond Missing" to do exactly that and extend it beyond those boundaries, we could easily create a seamless Amber Alert system that extends from coast-to-coast using high technology.

HEMMER: How do you do it then?

KLAAS: Well, what you do...

HEMMER: Where is the apprehension, and tell me why it is not being done, or is the case in Texas you mentioned -- tell you one thing that amazed me, Marc, it was initiated for the first time in Texas this past week, looking for young Cortez child, but it was initiated on Monday, and the girl turned up missing on Tuesday. That is substantial.

KLAAS: I'm sorry, it was initiated on Monday and she was found on Tuesday, is that what you are saying?

HEMMER: I'm saying it was initiated -- it was implement on Monday, and then you had it used to effectiveness on Tuesday, just a day later.

KLAAS: Well, what happens Bill is you get the information out, you get vehicle information out, you get a picture of the suspect out, you get a picture of the baby out, and then it is in people's minds, and they can look and they can find, you know, who the suspects are, and they can then bring them.

We, in fact, were contacted within 20 minutes of the abduction. We had made a deal with the governor that we would put something together within 30 days. We were contacted within 20 minutes, and within an hour and a half, we had 544 faxes distributed within a 300- square mile radius of Abilene, Texas, and that is all you have to do.

What we have done is we have created the GPS locators for every law enforcement agency in America, and by doing that, you can build a perimeter, of say, 200 miles, an Amber zone of about 200 miles around any one of those locations that easily penetrates state lines, and encompasses all partners: media, law enforcement, and any other partners that one might want to engage, like 7-Eleven's or gas stations.

HEMMER: Marc, listen, I am almost out of time, but I think it is very critical to get your thought on this.

KLAAS: Sure.

HEMMER: Some people say if you use Amber Alert too many times, too often, people will become numb to it, they will become immune to it, essentially you are crying wolf. How do you counter that?

KLAAS: Well, I think that that is a very, very real concern, and I think you have to do it in a timely manner, In Dallas, Texas where it started in 1996, they have activated it 23 times, and they have used it to return 9 children, home safely and effectively, so that is not really an overuse of it. But remember, 2000 children are reported missing to law enforcement every day in America, and finally, we are all paying some attention to it.

HEMMER: Thanks, Marc. We will talk again, unfortunately. Marc Klaas in San Francisco.

KLAAS: Sure, Bill.




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