- The Washington Times - Friday, August 16, 2002

SPOTSYLVANIA, Va. Long before the daily news updates on abductions, years prior to the "Amber Alert," this community knew the horror of having their young go missing.

Kristin Lisk, 15, and Kati Lisk, 12, disappeared on May 1, 1997, after getting off separate school buses near their home. Their bodies were found five days later in a river about 40 miles away.

Sofia Silva, 16, was last seen doing her homework on her front porch before vanishing on Sept. 9, 1996. Her blanket-wrapped body turned up five weeks later in a muddy creek in King George County.

Now, with their killer identified and dead himself, residents have reflected on how the Lisk and Silva slayings changed this growing community.

"I think that not only has this changed my life, it's changed the whole community and the way we do things now and the way we live," said Sheriff's Maj. Howard Smith, a veteran officer who led the investigation. "I guess it's kind of taken away our innocence."

The killer, Marc Evonitz, lived in Spotsylvania County from November 1992 to December 1999. In June, he was wanted in connection with the abduction and rape of a 15-year-old South Carolina girl who had escaped and set police on his trail. Evonitz, 38, fatally shot himself after police tracked him to Sarasota, Fla. Yesterday, Maj. Smith announced that the girl would receive a $150,000 reward.

Spotsylvania County Sheriff Ronald Knight cried Tuesday when he announced that Evonitz had kidnapped the three girls in broad daylight and "changed this community forever."

Residents say the three slayings have strengthened families. They say parents now keep closer watchover their children.

"We keep an eye on the kids, even when they're out in the yard," Lisa Estruch, 39, said yesterday after she and her three children and a friend visited the Lisk sisters' grave sites, where there is a black tombstone shaped like two hearts.

"I'm so glad they caught him," said Mrs. Estruch, surrounded by her children, Jessica, 11, Stephanie 8, and Kenny, 4, and their friend, Maria Fox, 7.

Maj. Smith said the cases caused him "a lot of sleepless nights."

"Obviously, it's changed me professionally and personally. On a personal level, I think it's changed the way I live my life. Having a small child, I am much more cautious now about where he goes and who he's with. I've put an alarm system on my home. He's not allowed to stay home by himself."

And now there is the Amber Alert, a nationwide system used to track missing children by transmitting information quickly to television and radio stations.

Since the Lisk and Silva killings, Spotsylvania has seen a population explosion.

Sheriff Knight, 59, said the town had about 40,000 residents when he was elected in 1995. The latest count is 96,000.

"When I came to the county, it was small," said the Rev. Clyde W. Coleman, 75, pastor of the 101-year-old Travelers Rest Baptist Church, who recalled that the population in 1956 was less than 13,000.

The sheriff said "the sheer magnitude of population" has increased traffic, created other problems and increased petty crimes like vandalism and thefts. But "it's still a nice little country town," he said.

And it remains a town proud of its long history.

In the center of it is the Old Berea Christian Church, converted to the Spotsylvania County Museum. It is filled with memorabilia about crucial Civil War battles between the Union Army and Confederate troops.

A description under the portrait of Spotsylvania's first resident, Alexander Spottisewood, says "He was the best governor Virginia ever had."

Joyce Torreyson, 66, moved to the area many years before the slayings.

"I moved here to get away from the growth in Montgomery County [Maryland]," she said during lunch at the Courthouse Cafe. "The growth has been astronomical."

Mrs. Torreyson said after the killings, " Parents were, I think, overprotective. Then, they let their guard down for a little."

Since officials announced that conclusive and scientific evidence proved Evonitz was the killer, she said, parents have once again become more protective.

"This guy would have done it regardless of whether we were in a big place or not," Sheriff Knight said. "People are relieved, but they realize there are guys like this out there yet. They are still alert."

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