a Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 5, 2002; B1
Human remains found near a North Carolina creek are those of Jennifer R. Short, the 9-year-old from Henry County, Va., who had been missing since Aug. 15, when her parents were found shot to death in their home, police said yesterday.
DNA evidence confirmed that a skull with a bullet hole and other remains found 10 days ago in Stoneville, N.C., are Jennifer's. The area is about 30 miles south of the Short home in Bassett, Va.
"She's gone now, she's safe now, and no evil can befall her," said Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell.
Photos of Jennifer's sweet face and toothy smile captured hearts across the country, and her case was one in a string of high-profile child disappearances last summer. Commuters in the Washington area heard of Jennifer's disappearance through an Amber Alert, the first time the system was triggered in the metropolitan area.
"To find out that it is Jennifer is taking a toll on the family," said Frank Arrington, Jennifer's great-uncle. He said forensic evidence foreshadowing yesterday's DNA test results did not soften the blow. "It's just devastating."
Her parents, Michael W. Short, 50, and Mary H. Short, 36, were shot to death in their home, and investigators launched a nationwide search for Jennifer.
Police say they have no suspects in what is now a triple slaying. But court documents filed in Rockingham County, N.C., indicate interest in Garrison S. Bowman, 66, a man whose mobile home was found about a mile from Jennifer's body. Bowman is in police custody in Canada, and the court papers say police found a map to the Short house in his home in Mayodan, N.C.
A police affidavit filed in court said Bowman's landlord told investigators that two days before the killings of Michael and Mary Short, Bowman said that he had paid a man in Virginia to move his mobile home and that if he didn't move it or return his money, "he would have to kill him." Michael Short ran a business that moved mobile homes.
The landlord also told police that he saw Bowman putting a "false floor" in his van and drilling holes in the side of a compartment. On Aug. 15, the day of the killings, Bowman approached the landlord with a pistol, the affidavit said. The next day, Bowman was gone and his trailer had been moved.
Police later seized bedding, photographs, documents and forensic evidence from Bowman's trailer, and they have requested his phone records, the court papers say.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police said Bowman was arrested in Inuvik, a town north of the Arctic Circle in Canada's Northwest Territories, on an immigration violation. Rockingham investigators are expected to interview Bowman soon.
"Right now he is classified as a witness," Rockingham Sheriff Sam Page said. "We're looking to see what he might add to the investigation."
So far, there have been few clues. The bodies of Jennifer's parents were found in different parts of their home, which sits next to an abandoned produce stand and across from a flea market on a busy road. Jennifer's bed was empty, the sheets pulled back. The phone line to the house had been cut.
Jennifer's remains were found 30 miles away in Eddie Albert's front yard. On Aug. 23, he found his two dogs playing with what looked like an old wig. Albert threw it in the trash. Two days later, the dogs were playing with what appeared to be a turtle shell. But when Albert picked it up, he immediately knew it was a human skull. He called the sheriff's department.
In hardscrabble Henry County, which is already reeling from tough economic times, Jennifer's disappearance banded residents together in hope and prayer. It was nearly impossible to walk any distance without seeing Jennifer's photo, a yellow ribbon or some other sign of support and unity.
Now the signs of hope have turned into totems of despair. Adding to the area's troubles, two Saturdays ago, one of Jennifer's schoolmates, a third-grader, was killed in an all-terrain vehicle accident. "It's almost too much for people to bear right now," said the Rev. Morris V. Fleischer of Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church.
Fleischer, whose church held a prayer vigil of hope after Jennifer's disappearance, said he was considering a service of mourning. "Whether it is to hold hands or hug, I feel we need to do something," he said. "I think the church doors need to be open tonight."
Whatever happens, Jennifer will not be forgotten.
"You see the yellow ribbons up and down the street, on mailboxes and on trees, and realize we've all sort of become her surrogate parents, grandparents, and brothers and sisters," Fleischer said. "If there is a ray of light, Jennifer brought this community closer together."