CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Update on Missing Girl in Virginia
Aired August 19, 2002 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And now, though, we want to take you now live to that event that we were talking about, the press conference underway in Virginia. Hopefully we'll get some more information on that missing girl, Jennifer Short.
Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
SHERIFF H.F. CASSELL, HENRY COUNTY, VIRGINIA: ... problem. Also this morning, the sheriff of Rockingham County, North Carolina, who's been assisting us with personnel, has a mounted patrol, a horse patrol with 15 horses and 20 men that are going to be searching the same general area that's already been searched but may be a little better coverage because of the horses ' ability to maneuver. They will be working under Mr. Copes (ph).
Beyond that, I don't really have anything to tell you. And I'll answer your questions.
QUESTION: There's a report out today that say that guns were found in (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
CASSELL: I don't -- I don't know. I don't know what was found. I haven't seen the...
QUESTION: So you're saying (ph) you don't know anything about a rifle, a shotgun...
CASSELL: I can't answer anything about any affidavit.
QUESTION: What you've gotten from the psychic, is it positive? Do they feel she's still alive?
CASSELL: No, I -- well probably. I don't remember any of them saying that she wasn't alive.
QUESTION: Sheriff, do you think this was a professional hit, two people dead, each with one bullet hole?
CASSELL: I still have no reason to think that it was. It could have been, but I don't have any reason to think so.
QUESTION: Do you still on (ph) to the fact that it is people that knew the house and knew the people...
CASSELL: That's my personal opinion. QUESTION: Sheriff, how would you characterize the interviews you're going to do today, are you going back and rechecking with people you've dealt with before or are you going to be talking to some new people, new (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? What are you going to do?
CASSELL: Both. We're going to be reinterviewing people and talking to new people. And I don't know what we'll be asking the ones we reinterview. The new ones we'll be trying to find out how well they knew these people, any contact they had with them or what type of contact.
QUESTION: Sheriff, among the old ones, is Christopher Thompson among those?
CASSELL: He might be.
QUESTION: How many times have you talked to him so far?
CASSELL: I don't know.
QUESTION: Were any of the phone lines cut to the house?
QUESTION: Any idea when?
CASSELL: Apparently during -- at some point during the crime.
QUESTION: Could it have been done ahead of time do you think?
CASSELL: I can't answer that. There's no indication it was.
QUESTION: Were there any phone calls that went in or out of that house prior to 12?
CASSELL: There were phone calls in and out of that house, but I don't know the latest phone call in and out of the house.
QUESTION: What does that tell you, the fact the phone lines were cut, sir?
CASSELL: That someone intended to commit a crime, nothing beyond that.
QUESTION: Were power lines disturbed at all?
QUESTION: Just the phone then (ph)?
CASSELL: Just the phone.
QUESTION: Sheriff, what are -- the mounted patrols, what can they pick up that people on foot or on ATVs or in a helicopter can't see? CASSELL: Both the -- probably nothing. This was an offer. I didn't request them, but it was offered; and I'll take any help we can get.
QUESTION: Did you say you're dealing with psychics or (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
CASSELL: We get and we've probably had 20 to 30 psychic calls. We evaluate them, and some of them we've acted on. Most of them are so bizarre that they don't even get around to talking about this case.
QUESTION: Do you have any belief in psychics at all? Do you give them credibility (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
CASSELL: I wouldn't -- I wouldn't discount some of them. I certainly haven't heard any in this case that's -- that I think are legitimate.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, are you...
QUESTION: ... water, are you going to drag it? (UNINTELLIGIBLE) body of water we talked...
CASSELL: It's a -- it's a small pond. I haven't seen it, but it's been described as small. We got two boats and they probably will be dragging because it's pretty extensively polluted or appears to be. They're afraid to dive in it.
QUESTION: How far away is it from the house?
CASSELL: I don't know, it's somewhere fairly near behind it, but I don't know how far. I haven't -- I haven't seen it.
QUESTION: Just so everyone's clear, are you soliciting the help of psychics or are they calling...
CASSELL: No, absolutely not the soliciting of the help of psychics.
QUESTION: Sheriff, now if you could tell about -- tell us about search warrants that may be executed in Rockingham County?
CASSELL: Joe, I can't answer about a search warrant. We did follow what at one time we felt could have been a very substantial lead in Rockingham County yesterday. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that it's going to turn in -- out to be anything. We haven't totally discounted what we were working on down there, but it doesn't look good at this time. It doesn't look promising.
QUESTION: Is the timeline still the same? Timeline midnight to nine in the morning, is that still the same?
QUESTION: Sheriff, have you personally inspected the evidence that was taken from the home yesterday... CASSELL: No.
QUESTION: ... and brought in?
QUESTION: Do you know that it's been (UNINTELLIGIBLE), at least that much?
CASSELL: I can't say that. I've heard that, but I can't -- I can't say of my own knowledge.
QUESTION: And you haven't seen them (ph) your own eyes yet?
CASSELL: No. No.
QUESTION: Autopsy results coming today, perhaps?
CASSELL: Perhaps. I haven't seen -- they haven't -- they haven't came yet.
QUESTION: Sheriff, you've said all along you're convinced gut feeling this is somebody local, somebody who knew the family, yet it's been four days of talking to people, questioning people. Does it surprise you that you don't have anything more definitive at this point?
CASSELL: Well it surprised me that we didn't have more to start with. We keep finding more people to interview. And the list, as I have told you before, the ripple effect, it just keeps growing people. This man apparently had more occasional employees than even we realized. We keep finding more employees that's got to be contacted, former employees. So I don't know whether that answers your question or not.
QUESTION: Are you going to be interviewing family members today again?
CASSELL: I'm not aware of any family members we'll be interviewing. I wouldn't discount it, but I'm not aware of any.
QUESTION: Sheriff, when you say occasional employees, you're talking about people who worked ever so briefly or worked...
QUESTION: ... for a short period...
QUESTION: ... and have moved on or out...
QUESTION: ... of the community?
QUESTION: And how are you coming upon those names, through business records?
CASSELL: I really don't know. I really don't know whether it's through business records or through contacts. Nearly every contact you make out there, if they know anything, you'll get more contacts from them. A lot of this man's associates are giving us names of people that they know worked for him at one time or another. They're being generated in several different manners.
QUESTION: Are they transient people or are they people that are established in the area?
CASSELL: No, most of them, unfortunately, are transient type people.
QUESTION: Sheriff, you mentioned yesterday that you had a room full of collected evidence (UNINTELLIGIBLE). There's a kid missing here. Would you have expected the state lab to be up and operating and looking at this stuff...
CASSELL: Well, the state lab is some of the most crucial evidence that we gathered. They did come in and look at.
QUESTION: OK, can you tell us anything about what they looked at or what (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
CASSELL: No, but they -- I have no criticism of what they've done. Most of the rest probably is not going to realize any return anyway. I mean we took bags and bags and bags of evidence. We took all sorts of evidence and none of this can be -- it's going to take a while to go through this stuff. We had some what we considered crucial evidence that they came in and looked at that over the weekend.
QUESTION: After sealing off the windows in the home yesterday, were you able to find additional blood evidence inside the house?
CASSELL: I haven't found out whether they have or not. I can only assume they didn't, but I don't know for sure.
QUESTION: Have you contacted trucking companies at Highway 220 -- a lot of trucks going through there?
CASSELL: We have talked to some trucking companies, yes.
QUESTION: Have you talked to hotels and motels in the area about who was staying there?
CASSELL: I don't know that we have done that. I don't know. I haven't heard that that's been done or hasn't been done.
QUESTION: How calculated would you say the crime is?
CASSELL: How what? QUESTION: How planned out do you think it is -- was?
CASSELL: Well that would be hard to say. Certainly the phone line being cut indicates that there was --that it was some sort of planning. Beyond that, I really don't know because we know so little about it.
QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you have any like (ph) marginal people at all?
CASSELL: The only thing we've heard is a possibility of a red or a dark colored van or truck or pickup.
QUESTION: Is that pulling out of the residence?
CASSELL: Yes, but it's been so vague that it hasn't been of any great use at this time.
QUESTION: Well what time was...
CASSELL: We're hoping to develop that.
QUESTION: What time was that seen?
CASSELL: Some time prior to 9:00, possibly like 8:30 to 9:00.
QUESTION: In the morning?
QUESTION: Have you -- does Virginia have a sex offender...
QUESTION: Have you been looking at people...
QUESTION: ... known up to that (ph)...
QUESTION: Because you've checked out everybody there, do they have an alibi or (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?
CASSELL: Virginia sex offender list would probably take months.
QUESTION: But in this area?
CASSELL: We are checking on the ones in this area.
QUESTION: Do any of them look like possible leads for you?
CASSELL: I can't say at this time. I'm not -- I'm not that familiar with how far they've gotten into that. QUESTION: Sheriff, is there anything about the disposition of the bodies suggests -- that suggests there was any sort of sexual assault of them at all?
QUESTION: Or that they were surprised or anything about the way they were found that indicates this may have been over very quick (ph)?
CASSELL: Without going into any detail, I would suspect that both were sleeping. That's strictly an opinion.
QUESTION: No indication that either one fought back?
QUESTION: Sheriff, one fatal gunshot wound in each victim, does that strike you as the average person...
QUESTION: ... being able -- capable of doing that -- that marksmanship?
CASSELL: Well, it depends on how close you are to someone as the marksmanship. Being able to get that close probably would surprise me more. This is a very unusual, bizarre case.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication what time they went to bed on average or how...
CASSELL: Well, if -- the best evidence we have, they went to bed sometime after midnight. We don't know what time after midnight, but sometime after midnight and died sometime before 9:00.
QUESTION: Is there anything in the house or around the bodies that suggest there may have been drinking or that may have been -- had a deeper...
CASSELL: I haven't heard alcohol come up at all in this case so far.
QUESTION: Do you believe that Jennifer had been put to bed before midnight? Chris Thompson was at the house, did he indicate she was up when he left or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in bed?
CASSELL: It's my recollection that all three members were up at midnight. That's my recollection, I'm not positive about that.
QUESTION: How would you describe Mr. Thompson's cooperation with you so far?
CASSELL: So far -- so far he's cooperated fully.
QUESTION: And he's in no way, shape or form a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) suspect?
CASSELL: Every one that worked around these people and have been around these people lately would be considered suspect to some degree.
QUESTION: Sheriff, we've heard rumors of gambling debt, is that true (ph)?
CASSELL: Joe, we have -- we have found nothing that I've heard of that would substantiate that; however, I couldn't discount it.
QUESTION: Sheriff, just to clarify, when you're talking about the people around the family, are you saying that this is a kind of a change in your feelings towards who are suspects and who are not suspects? Are you focussing now on people around the family? And can we call anyone around the family,...
QUESTION: ... such as Christopher Thompson, as potential suspects?
CASSELL: We're -- we haven't changed the focus of this at all since it started. We're running down every possible acquaintance of these people of whatever nature, particularly people that have close contacts, such as employees, former employees, or direct associates. This may or may not include family. The focus of this hasn't changed. We're running down any leads that we get away from here, but concentrating on the known, which is the close circle of acquaintances. We have nowhere to go beyond that unless we get leads other places. And then when we get them, we follow up on them.
HARRIS: We've been listening this morning to Virginia's Henry County Sheriff Cassell, who -- Cassell, rather, who is updating the press in the world right now on the search that's underway for this missing girl, Jennifer Short. Not much new information to report this morning, unfortunately. The sheriff saying there that they have not found anything that would change what they thought about as a timeline on what happened here with Jennifer and her family. Her two parents shot in the head sometime and she taken out of the home sometime between midnight and 9:00 a.m. on Thursday of last week.
Now he did say this morning that they are in the process of searching a pond that is near the home. He couldn't really give us too many more details about that. That process is still underway.
He also mentioned that they brought in horses, apparently because of the terrain around that area, and they're using them to search certain places that are not accessible by vehicle. And they do have a lot of ground to cover, so they expect that will be a big help.
The sheriff also mentioned that they're checking on a number of calls that were made in and out of the house, even though the phone line there was cut, which indicated to him that there was quite a bit of planning.
And he also said something about reinterviewing and interviewing some more names that had come up as people who were working there on that property, because he said apparently Mr. Short had a lumber -- had quite a few more occasional employees than was first thought. So these are people who have a transient lifestyle, so they're trying to track them down and that may be difficult to do.
And he said that there may also be a red van or pickup involved somehow, some way in this case. And they may be keeping an eye out for that.
And we will keep our ears open for any new information coming out of Virginia on this terribly tragic story. The search now for Jennifer Short still under way.
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