Bad Creek

Date Published 10.15.09
Seen on a map, the tiny town of Weleetka, Oklahoma looks like it's in the exact center of the United States.  Cities, and their hustle and bustle, lay elsewhere, Dallas to the south, Oklahoma City to the west.  Weleetka is rural, working-class, and small, with just 1,000 people.  "A laid back country town," one local wrote on the Weleetka Topix message board.  A place, another said, where it's hard to keep a secret.

Which is why the townspeople, accustomed to a pace of easygoing familiarity, are so rattled by what happened over a year ago not far from Bad Creek.  On a summer evening, two girls, 11 and 13, set off for a short walk to the creek's bridge.  They never made it back.  Their bodies were found in a ditch on the side of the country road.  The girls had been shot multiple times; it was overkill, really, a total of 13 gunshot wounds.  In the autopsy report, the medical examiner makes note that the letter "Z" is marked on both bodies.  The story of the "Z" wasn't ominous, but heartbreaking.  The letter tattoo was self-made by the girls, a tribute to their crush, heartthrob actor Zac Efron.

Skyla Whitaker, 11, and Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, were best friends.  Skyla was the outgoing tomboy, an animal lover who often had some of her many cats in tow.  Taylor was quieter, shyer.  She wanted to be a forensic scientist when she grew up, like on the TV shows.  The girls were 2 of 10 students in the 5th - 6th grade class at Graham Public School.  They were inseparable.

Skyla Whitaker and Taylor Paschal-Placker

On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Skyla slept over at Taylor's house.  The girls often hung out in a shed behind the house that they had made into their own private club.  The next day, Sunday, the girls asked Taylor's grandfather, Peter Placker, who was Taylor's legal guardian, if they could walk the half-mile or so to the Bad Creek bridge.  Placker let them go.  It was around 5 p.m. 

Not too long after, Skyla's mother called Placker to say she was coming to pick up Skyla.  Placker tried to reach Taylor on her cell phone, to tell her to come back.  She didn't answer.  Placker went out looking for the girls.  He found them about 3oo yard from the house, in a ditch.

It appeared that the girls had been on the west side of the road, walking south, when they were gunned down.  Their bodies, and their wounds, told a story.  Taylor had powder residue on her chin, as if she'd been standing close to the shooter, unafraid, when he pulled a gun, perhaps from where he was hiding it beneath a car or pick-up truck window.

Taylor was able to get her right hand up to defend herself; a bullet pierced her hand.  Skyla, having more time to react than her friend, went to run and was shot.  She had several shots to the back of her arms.  Wounded, she fell as the killer continued to aim at her, shooting her in the stomach, left shoulder and neck.  She was shot 8 times.

Taylor was shot 5 times, in the right cheek and groin.

There was no evidence of sexual assault.  There was no clear motive.  Still, investigators had a lot to work with, including tire track impressions, shoe impressions, bullet casings, even, allegedly, DNA from an unknown source.  Ballistic tests resulted in the most surprising development --- it was determined that two different weapons had been used in the attack, a .40 Glock, and another, allegedly smaller caliber gun that OSBI (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) officials decline to specify.

There was even a person of interest.  Witnesses reported seeing a Native American man, about 35, 6 feet tall, with black hair worn in a pony tail, standing next to a white Chevy or Ford pick up truck near where the bodies were found.

Interest in identifying the unknown man was strong initially, but seems to have lessened in the last months, a sign, perhaps, that investigators are pursuing other leads.

What Happened?

Investigators believe, and it seems clear, that there were two shooters.  It's possible one person used two guns, but not likely.  The girls were found just five feet apart.  One killer taking the time to use two guns would have given the girls a chance to run farther.

The girls may have known their killer.  Pictures show the brush along the road is dense and high; if they'd been afraid of a stranger, they could have hidden there.  In fact, the initial gunshots appear to be from close-range, as if the girls walked up to a car or truck to talk to someone they knew.  And the road itself is isolated and known mostly to locals, increasing the chances they were familiar with their killer or killers.

Who were the killers?  A year and a half later, investigators still don't know.  The obvious choices each have their drawbacks.  The video-game assault and overkill suggested to many people that teenage boys were involved.  It's not difficult to imagine a young duo, one more dominant than the other, urging each other on in a deadly game of dare.  And apparently it's not uncommon for local teenage boys in 4-wheelers to target shoot in that part of the countryside.

There was some talk that maybe one of the girls had gotten a teenage acquaintance in trouble over some drugs.  Local chatter centered on a group of troubled boys from a couple of families known for their violence and dysfunction.  A grand jury was convened, and several boys in their late teens and early twenties testified.  One was said to have heard the shots.  Another, in jail on a burglary charge, had erupted in violence and threats to his family around the time of the murders.

But the grand jury failed to indict, and the teenage boy angle didn't result in an arrest.  One problem with teenagers as suspects is that as a group they're not exactly known for their ability to stonewall.  They cave.  They flip on each other.  Yet in this case, there's nothing.

It's also puzzling that the extremely high reward in this case --- $160,000 at last count --- hasn't yielded more information.  The area is poor; that's a fortune to most locals.  The lack of information suggests not that people are shielding the suspect(s), but that they truly don't know who did it.

And what of the person of interest?  Witnesses only reported seeing one man, which is curious since there' s much evidence to suggest two shooters.  And he was seen hanging around the front of his pick-up truck.  Would he linger there and risk being seen if he'd just shot and killed two young girls?

Disturbed and afraid, the people of Weleetka, and beyond, continue to speculate, hunt for clues, and ask questions.  Many locals have flocked to a Topix message board dedicated to the case.  They exchange rumors and correct misinformation.  They continue to hope that justice will be found.  One local put their search in simple, but eloquent, terms.

"Let's keep turning over rocks."

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.