- The Washington Times - Monday, February 7, 2005

CROTHERSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — The procession through the doors of Eddie Hodge’s Redneck Computers shop was a silent testimony to an entire town’s heartbreak.

One by one, residents ordered T-shirts emblazoned with a photograph of 10-year-old Katie Collman, whose body had been found in a creek outside town a day earlier.

“We found you honey!” said the caption below the smiling face of the dark-haired girl who loved to play basketball and went into a town bank almost every day to get suckers. “We will find you next,” read the message on the backs of the shirts, carrying a police sketch of a suspect in the fourth-grader’s abduction.

The search for Katie and the arrest of a town resident have consumed this town of 1,570 people, 12 churches and one stoplight, where the last homicide was committed nearly three decades ago.

Mr. Hodge made the T-shirts to help find his friend’s daughter after she disappeared Jan. 25. He made more five days later when the search gave way to a manhunt for her killer.

“Help get the dude,” he told a visitor. Police say they have. Charles James Hickman, 20, of Crothersville, was arrested Wednesday on charges of murder and criminal confinement.

Residents had combed back roads looking for Katie, whose given name was Katlyn. They prayed for the child and her family, donated food for the investigators, phoned in tips and tied blue ribbons around utility poles and pinned them to their lapels. They also wore the T-shirts printed by Mr. Hodge.

“She’s changed this community and other communities,” Katie’s father, John Neace, told the Tribune of Seymour. “You can tell a big difference in this community. My wife and I are very proud that my little girl could touch so many people and bring them together.”

Mr. Neace said he wanted the community to remember Katie as a bright child who always was helping people around the town, about 40 miles north of Louisville, Ky.

People who knew Katie described her in interviews and memorials posted at a funeral home Web site as always happy and wearing a big smile, a fan of basketball and the Disney Channel. Few details about the family were available, but she had an older sister named Jessica.

“Everybody knew Katie. She was a friendly child,” said Linda Sams, who donated pizzas for investigators and volunteers. “That’s why there’s been such an outpouring.”

Janet Lewis learned of Katie’s disappearance in a late-night phone call from police notifying residents that Katie was missing. Mrs. Lewis and her husband drove to her mother’s farm outside town and looked for the girl.

“All over town, they did it,” Mrs. Lewis said. “All you had to do is ask, and this community will do anything for you.”

Police say Mr. Hickman admitted abducting Katie to scare her because she saw drugs, amphetamines, in an apartment near her home.

Mr. Hickman gave conflicting accounts of how the girl wound up in the creek, but investigators said he left her there to drown.

“It was just unbelievable, unimaginable. We just couldn’t believe that something like this could happen,” said Alisa Sweazy, Crothersville’s deputy town clerk, who attended school with Mr. Hickman’s parents.

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