- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

BASSETT, Va. A man and woman were found shot to death in their home yesterday morning and their 9-year-old daughter apparently had been abducted, police said.

The bodies of Michael W. Short, 50, and Mary H. Short, 36, were found in their home on U.S. 220 near the Franklin County line in Southwestern Virginia, said Franklin County Sheriff W. Quint Overton.

The couple were found by a co-worker who dropped by the house. Mr. Short, a self-employed mobile-home mover, was dead on a couch in an enclosed carport, said Henry County Sheriff's Capt. Kimmy Nester. Deputies found Mrs. Short inside, dead in a bedroom. Each had been shot once in the head, and investigators said evidence seemed to rule out a murder-suicide.

Police were combing the rural area for Jennifer Renee Short, who was missing when her parents' bodies were discovered.

"Nobody knows where this child is. That's not normal," Capt. Nester said. "The family is all in shock."

He said other family members live in the immediate area and none knew anything about the girl's whereabouts. Capt. Nester said police had no suspects and declined to discuss any leads.

Authorities initially thought the girl might have escaped the house and run away during the shootings. But when she hadn't turned up by early afternoon, police called an "Amber Alert," a nationwide system used to track missing children by transmitting information quickly to television and radio stations.

The Amber Alert system is named for a Texas girl abducted several years ago. The system operates on the premise that the first moments after an abduction can be critical to the child's safe return.

Although Henry County is far from the Washington area, police asked WTOP radio to trigger the alert, believing her abductor might travel through the Washington region.

"We thought, let's err on the side of the angels if it means finding this little girl," said Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming for WTOP.

Several television and radio stations, including WTTG-TV (Channel 5) and WMAL-AM (630), picked up the warnings and aired them yesterday afternoon.

Jennifer is 4 feet 3 inches tall, weighs 58 pounds and has brown hair. The Henry County Sheriff's Office asked anyone who might have seen the girl to call 276/638-8751. Crimestoppers offered a $1,000 reward for substantial information about the crime.

State police and about 25 police officers from Martinsville and Henry and Franklin counties were involved in the search, Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell said.

The family lived in a red-brick ranch house flanked by motels and gas stations on the busy highway. Traffic crept along the road late yesterday afternoon as police set up a command center in a brown van.

A few dozen officers streamed in and out from patrols, and others spread out and paced the rolling hills that extend to the horizon behind the home.

Late yesterday afternoon, a hearse took the Shorts' bodies from the house, crossing the yellow police tape circling the home.

Jennifer's uncle, Thomas Lynch, stared in disbelief as the hearse left. "They were good people," he said. "I don't know what else to say."

Ruby Emberson, 74, the Shorts' closest neighbor, lives about 100 yards away. She said she had no idea of anything wrong with the family.

"They were always outdoors together in the yard mowing the grass or whatever," she said. "They seemed as happy as could be."

However, real estate agent Marlene Dalton said the family may have been going through some financial trouble. On Aug. 5, the Shorts asked Miss Dalton to put their brick rancher up for sale.

"Mr. Short said business was just slow," she said. "He said, 'I've got a trailer of my own and we're going to move and live in that for a while.'"

Miss Emberson said Mr. Short's dark pickup truck was missing yesterday morning.

Staff writer Chris Baker contributed to this report.

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