- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

PRATTVILLE, Ala. (AP) - A special investigative grand jury has been impaneled in Autauga County to look into the mysterious disappearance and death of an 11-year-old girl in central Alabama more than 15 years ago.

On Aug. 16, 2001, Shannon Paulk disappeared from her neighborhood. Her body was recovered about two months later by hunters in a public hunting area north of Prattville. No one has ever been charged in her death, which has become the most infamous case in Prattville’s history. The case is being worked as a homicide.

District Attorney Randall Houston said the law prevents him from commenting on grand jury action. He did, however, give an update on Shannon’s case.

“For the last year the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s cold case unit has been looking into Shannon’s case, exclusively,” he said. “Just getting the mountain of evidence from all agencies that are working the case together in one place is an accomplishment in itself. Technology has improved so that evidence that was collected then, that couldn’t be tested for forensic evidence, can now be tested.

“I honestly feel that we have the best chance of solving this case now than we have had in the past 16 years.”

Shannon’s disappearance sent shock waves through Prattville.

For years afterward, parents wouldn’t allow their children to ride bicycles to friends’ homes just down the block. Adults kept a more watchful eye over children at public parks and ball games.

Along with the Prattville Police Department, the Autauga County Sheriff’s Office and the then Alabama Bureau of Investigation, the FBI has conducted a nationwide investigation into the case. The case has always remained active, Houston said. It was the subject of several segments of “America’s Most Wanted.”

“It’s easy to lose heart in a case like this, especially as more and more time goes by,” Houston said. “But you have to keep working it. You can’t lose hope.”

During the jury selection process at the Autauga County Courthouse on Monday morning in Prattville, it was announced in open court that the special grand jury would serve a six-month term, and would meet periodically. During the selection process, again in open court, the jury pool was asked questions relating to their knowledge Shannon’s case, the discovery of her remains and if anyone in the pool had a hunting permit for the public hunting area from 2000-2002.

Eighteen people were selected to serve on the grand jury. In a twist of irony the randomly selected jury pool included retired Prattville Police Chief Alfred Wadsworth. He was the city’s top cop when Shannon disappeared. He wasn’t selected to serve on the grand jury.

Houston commented, in general, on legal processes that could be part of any homicide investigation.

“There’s no law that says you have to talk to the police, there’s no law that says you can’t lie to the police,” he said. “But, a grand jury can compel you to testify, by issuing a subpoena. You have to testify under oath.

“There are several persons of interest the investigation is following in this case.”

News of the special grand jury began filtering out to the community Monday afternoon. Lindsey Jones had just finished lunch with friends at Uncle Mick’s Cajun Cafe, a popular downtown eatery. Jones, 27, the same age Shannon would be today, greeted the news with a shudder.

“Oh, God, I remember when that happened,” the Prattville native said. “That was a bad time. My parents wouldn’t let me out of their sight for years after that.”

Jones and her husband, Jeff, have a daughter now, Ashley, who just turned 3.

“Growing up, I always heard adults say hug your kids when something terrible happened,” she said. “You don’t really understand until you have children of your own. I’m going home tonight and I’m hugging my Ashley.”

Jim Byard Jr. was the young mayor of his hometown in 2001. He is now director of the Alabama Department of Economics and Community Affairs. His birthday is Aug. 17.

“I always think about Shannon on my birthday,” the now 50-year-old said. “I still have the yellow ribbon that I put in front of my house then. This was just a horrific crime, a little 11-year-old girl just snatched away like that. I’m sure I’m like a lot of people in Prattville, and think about the case and Shannon often.”


Information from: Montgomery Advertiser, https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

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