- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 17, 2002

BASSETT, Va. Helicopters, search dogs and four-wheel-drive vehicles joined a nationwide search yesterday for a missing 9-year-old girl and the person who shot her parents to death in their western Virginia home.

A day after the shootings, authorities said they still had no suspects in the slayings or in the disappearance of Jennifer Renee Short.

"With every hour that goes by, I'm afraid the situation will get ever more drastic," said Henry County sheriff's Capt. Kimmy Nester.

Michael Short, 50, a self-employed mobile-home mover, and his wife, Mary, 36, were found dead Thursday morning in their tidy, red-brick home along busy U.S. Highway 220 about 35 miles south of Roanoke.

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, they issued an Amber Alert, a nationwide system that transmits information quickly to law enforcement agencies, television and radio stations.

That has produced some leads, including at least one from as far away as the Midwest, but all have so far been unfounded, Capt. Nester said.

Capt. Nester issued a plea for the kidnappers to release Jennifer in a public area and notify authorities so she could be picked up.

"If you are a captor, please release her," Capt. Nester said.

The body of Mr. Short was found on a couch in an enclosed carport by a co-worker who dropped by the home. The co-worker called police, and officers who arrived at the house discovered the body of Mrs. Short in the bedroom. Both had been shot in the head and no weapon was found.

Neighbors along the busy north-south highway surrounded by motels and gas stations said the Short family was having money problems and decided this month to put their home up for sale.

They described the Shorts as a tight-knit family who enjoyed spending time and working in the yard together.

Jennifer, a rising fourth-grader, was shy and polite and stuck close to her parents when she wasn't in school or playing softball on a local recreation team, said Valerie Spradlin, who has known for family for 10 years.

"Her daddy was always trying to go out and be there at her games even though he was working so hard," Mrs. Spradlin said.

Anyone who may have seen the girl to call 276/638-8751.

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