- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2002

COLLINSVILLE, Va. (AP) Churchgoers prayed for the safe return of a kidnapped 9-year-old girl Sunday as police re-examined the crime scene and re-interviewed people close to the family.
At an evening briefing, Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell said scent dogs were brought to the home where police believe Jennifer Renee Short was abducted from her bed early Thursday after her parents were slain in their home. The dogs picked up the girl's scent at the home and around a motel and convenience store next door.
Sheriff Cassell said the "hits" were not particularly significant because the girl was known to frequent that area.
Also, trash bins at the motel were searched and police used special equipment in an effort to gather blood evidence at the home.
"We'll keep up this pace as long as necessary, as long as we have something to follow," Sheriff Cassell said.
Jennifer's parents, Michael Short, 50, and Mary Hall Short, 36, were found shot to death in their red-brick ranch house along busy U.S. 220, about 35 miles south of Roanoke. A preliminary autopsy report showed that both were shot once in the head. An autopsy report should be available today.
Christopher Thompson, 25, a laborer who worked for the family's mobile home moving business, was brought back in for questioning yesterday after having spoken with police several times over the past few days. Other business associates of Michael Short's also were re-interviewed.
Police said Mr. Thompson is cooperating with the investigation and is not considered a suspect.
Mr. Thompson told the Martinsville Bulletin he was at the Short home for hours the night before the slayings, helping Michael Short repair a truck. He returned the next morning to go with the family to buy another truck and found Michael Short's body in an enclosed carport around 9 a.m. Thursday.
At the Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church in Franklin County, near where Jennifer Short attended school, the Rev. Morris Fleischer lit a candle yesterday morning and placed it on the altar next to her photograph.
"I find myself holding my children just a little closer," Mr. Fleischer told about 80 worshippers. "This is a little girl that so many of us had contact with from school and in the community. It's really made me think about the fragility of life."
Cindy Brodie, a computer lab manager at Figsboro Elementary School who had Jennifer in class last year, said after the service that Jennifer was one of the quietest children in school, but she was always smiling and sweet. Her mother was the type of person who waved to teachers when she picked Jennifer up, she said.
She expects the other children to have difficulty dealing with Jennifer's absence when school starts in a few weeks, but added, "We'll get through this and pull together like a family."
Mr. Fleischer said this attitude is typical of the insular community along the Henry and Franklin county lines. He said the closing of many of the manufacturing plants that were once the region's lifeblood has given the community backbone and a firm faith.
"These people are some of the most loving, touching, feeling people I've known," said Rev. Fleischer, whose wife, Marcie, knew Mary Short in high school. "There's a real community spirit here."
Lena Pigg was crying as she walked out of the church into the bright sunlight. One the road next to the church, passing motorists honked in response to the church's sign: "Pray for Jennifer."
"Everyone is so sad and scared," she said, wiping at her tears.


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