- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

BASSETT, Va. Volunteers looking for a 9-year-old girl kidnapped from her Henry County home suspended their search yesterday after their investigation did not turn up new leads into the girl's disappearance and the slayings of her parents.

Richard Cox, head of the Old Dominion Search and Rescue team, said hundreds of volunteers had scoured the rural area near the family's home several times by foot, all-terrain vehicle and car during the past two days without finding traces of Jennifer Renee Short.

"Frankly, we need to keep looking," a weary Mr. Cox said yesterday as he strained to hold back tears. "But realistically and logically, putting all the evidence together over the past couple days, we don't have a direction to look in."

At an evening briefing, Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell said he agreed with Mr. Cox's decision, saying Mr. Cox has "done all he can do at this time."

Police are still searching Henry and surrounding counties for any trace of Jennifer, who they say was abducted from her bed early Thursday morning, when her parents, Michael and Mary Short, were each shot once in the head.

Sheriff Cassell called himself an "eternal optimist" and said he was still hopeful Jennifer would be found. "Until we find the worst, I'm hoping for the best," he said.

Sheriff Cassell said new photos of Jennifer, taken this summer and depicting her with shorter hair, had been released to the Amber Alert system.

The ground team was made up of trained volunteers from Henry and Patrick counties, as well as about 150 area residents. They had searched the area around the clock since the Amber Alert was issued Thursday notifying local, state and national law enforcement agencies of Jennifer's disappearance.

State Police were continuing their search of a 20- to 50-mile radius around the Shorts' home Saturday. They were assisted by 30 to 40 sheriff's deputies from several surrounding counties and at least four FBI agents, Sheriff Cassell said. In particular, the sheriff said, police were looking over banks, drop-offs and bridges, and in ravines, ponds and creeks.

Police planned to continue to conduct interviews today with neighbors, family members and business associates of Michael Short, Sheriff Cassell said. "This thing is like a ripple effect; it keeps expanding, and it'll take time to run these things down," he said.

The man who found Mr. Short's body, Christopher Thomas, a laborer who had worked for Mr. Short's mobile-home moving business, has been questioned on more than two occasions, Sheriff Cassell said. The sheriff also noted that it was difficult to track down some of Mr. Short's former employees because many were transients.

Sheriff Cassell said police would request at least one new search warrant. He provided few details but said police believe that the crime was committed "by someone who knew this family and knew their way around."

"No one has been ruled a suspect nor has anyone been ruled out as a potential suspect," Sheriff Cassell said. He added that police consider the slayings and the kidnapping "one and the same; if we solve one of them, we solve both of them."

Sheriff Cassell said that after three days, fatigue was becoming an issue for police just as it was for the volunteer searchers. He said the volunteers reported covering about 100 square miles since Thursday.

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