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Rockingham County Sheriff Announces DNA Analysis Results

Aired October 4, 2002 - 13:28   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We are going to take you now to Rockingham County, North Carolina, we are going to listen in on a press conference from there. You'll know this is about the update on the DNA tests that were conducted on human samples while searching for the missing 9-year-old girl, Jennifer Short -- let's listen in.

SAM PAGE, SHERIFF, ROCKINGHAM COUNTY, NORTH CAROLINA: ... office, at this point, for all of their assistance, the Virginia State Police, all of the investigators their office, and also investigators and staff at the Rockingham County Sheriff's Office, and also at this time we include the state -- excuse me, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, also is included in working within our case here at this time.

I have some results that have come in last night late from the lab in Roanoke, and I'll go ahead and read from my notes here. Results of DNA analysis, October 4, 2002.

The results of the DNA analysis conducted by the Virginia Division of Forensic Science lab located in Roanoke, Virginia regarding Jennifer Renee Short investigation has determined following: the skeletal remains recovered in Rockingham County, North Carolina on September 25, 2002, have been determined to be positive match with the DNA profile of the Jennifer Renee Short case. The skeletal remains are those, also, of Jennifer Renee Short.

I want to add, this is just one piece of the puzzle that now has come together. We have two agencies from two different states primarily working together to focus our efforts and all of our abilities to resolve this issue. We want to identify where these instances occurred at, we also want to identify the perpetrator or perpetrators involved in the case. You'll ask me some questions about witnesses, suspects. I can say at this time, we will be interviewing -- have been interviewing a lot of witnesses pertaining -- we feel that are involved, or have information that can assist us in solving these cases, and we will continue to interview these witnesses involved in these cases. We have not listed a suspect at this time.

At this time, I'm going to introduce the Sheriff Cassell. He has some information he would like to express to you also.

Sheriff Cassell?

SHERIFF FRANK CASSELL, HENRY COUNTY, VIRGINIA: Good evening, folks. I'd like to also thank you for coming out here today and thank all agencies involved in this case. We have been assisting Sheriff Page for the last week down here on these skeletal remains. Prior to that, his agency and several surrounding agencies had been assisting us for about six weeks. So we want to thank all them.

Before I go any further and certainly before we get into any questions, I want to clarify one thing: Michael Short was the biological father of Jennifer Renee Short. And while I'm here, I want to also apologize to the families, the Short family and Mary Short's extended family, for not being able to clarify this earlier. As you know, we received information early on that there possibly was someone, that Michael was not the father, on and on and on and on, and it kind of fed on itself. We weren't sure who the biological father was at first, and some of you may remember I told you I had no reason to believe that he wasn't.

We quickly found out he was. By that time, I was afraid to tell you for the simple reason if the biological father had Jennifer, we were afraid he would dispose of her. Or someone thought he was the biological father, which is just as important.

We never at any time, at anywhere, discovered any information that Mary Short was anything other than a lady and a model mother for her child. By the same token, we never discovered any information, anywhere that would lead us to believe that Michael Short was anything other than a loving father to his child.

I just want to make that plain for everyone, and particularly the family. We did what we did. I would risk anything to save a little girl's life. But she's gone now, and she's safe now. No evil can befall here. So that needs to be said. Thank you.

PAGE: I did admit that we had several volunteer firemen rescue squad members and also we had members of several law enforcement agencies in our county that assisted. Again, my hat's off, and thank you also.

To reiterate what the sheriff just said, we need to keep the family in your prayers because they're going through a lot. The family has been notified just prior to this release being made. And again, keep them in your prayers. We're trying to be as sensitive to them as we can. Again, we'll go to whatever limits we have to do, wherever we have to go, to look and find out who is involved or persons involved in this case that we're speaking from.

I'll take questions at this time.

QUESTION: Who notified the family?

QUESTION: You said you don't have suspects at this time, but do you have any search warrants other than for Gary Bowman's residence? What can you tell us about Gary Bowman, where he is, and whether you've spoken to him?

PAGE: I can't specific comment on a witness or anything. You asked for a search warrant; I'm not aware of any other search warrant that's already listed with clerk's office in Virginia and also with Rockingham County. Again, I can't make any comment on any witnesses because this an ongoing investigation.

QUESTION: Who notified the family (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

PAGE: Sheriff Cassell's staff.

CASSELL: Henry County. And to elaborate on what Sheriff Page said, we have served many, many search warrants in Henry County and probably will be serving some more, so I wouldn't get too hung up on one search warrant.

QUESTION: Sheriff Cassell, I was wondering how do you feel now that the DNA -- we heard that the DNA results were a match with Jennifer. How did you feel?

CASSELL: I am saddened, I'm heartbroken for this little girl and for her family. But at least it must be important to them -- it is to me -- to know that she's not out there somewhere still being abused or hurt or whatever. She's safe now. She's gone, but there is closure now. So I have very mixed feelings.

This has been an extremely emotional case, not only for the family, but for myself, my investigators and a lot of you folks. So I don't know what I feel.

QUESTION: What more can you tell us about how she died, whether there was any clothing or any other items that were found?

PAGE: The only thing cane tell you about that was released from medical examiner's office, gunshot wound to the skull area cause of death. At this time, we have not recovered any additional clothing items in the search areas that we've been involved in.

QUESTION: Do you know if any other harm came to her besides that gunshot wound: if she was sexually abused in any way beforehand, or anything else?

PAGE: I can only tell you that I'm aware that the cause of death was determined by gunshot wound to the head.


PHILLIPS: Breaking news out of Rockingham County, North Carolina. It's a positive match. We've been waiting for this news for a number of weeks now. You are look at a picture of 9-year-old Jennifer Short. We know that DNA testing determined that the partial skeleton found in a rural area in North Carolina about 30 miles from Jennifer Short's home is that of Jennifer Short. The 9-year-old had been missing since August of 2002. Michael Wayne Short, age 50, and Mary Hall Short, 36 -- her parents -- found dead in their home back in August of 2002.

And the body of Jennifer had not been found; that search was continuing for weeks on end. Divers in this pond had been out for the past couple of days looking for more evidence that could be sent off for DNA testing.

Our Charles Molineaux has also been following the latest news, the breaking news here, out of North Carolina.

Pretty amazing, Charles. I don't think there was a lot of people thinking, it just wasn't going to come through so quickly.

CHARLES MOLINEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was something a lot of people have been wondering about: Could this possibly have been Jennifer Short. But the fact of the matter was that the remains found were determined right off the bat to be those of a 9-year-old child, a 9-year-old girl who had been shot in the head. Of course, Michael and Mary Short had both been shot in the head back on August 15 in their home. So right off, it looked like it was pretty likely this would turn out to be Jennifer. And indeed it has.

The sheriff of Henry County, Virginia, Frank Cassell, called this a heartbreaking development. He called this a case of closure. And on the other hand, he said it was almost heartening to know that this has been resolved, that Jennifer is not still out there somewhere still being abused by her kidnappers.

He also wrapped up one thread which has been floating around, questions about Jennifer's paternity. This is something that had been flying around when media reports surfaced of Michael Short being exhumed for examination, and he said he just was afraid that he couldn't make it clear that in fact Michael Short was Jennifer's father, just on the off chance this was a case of somebody kidnapping her, thinking that perhaps he was her father. And didn't want to make that public just then, but he wanted to make it clear that that was a point that there was really no question about, but he wanted to straighten it out.

Otherwise, this is really a deep, deep mystery. Police have been trying to figuring this one out, the murders of the Mary and Michael Short -- and now we know Jennifer Short, as well, has been one that has baffled investigators. The parents were killed in their home back in August 15 in Henry County, Virginia, on a road that was actually pretty busy. There was no sign of forced entry. The house was for sale, so a lot of people have been going in or out.

Really, not a whole lot of information as to why this happened. As the sheriff of Rockingham County, Sam Page, put it, this is really just one more piece in this ongoing investigation and mystery -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: And Charles, police still have no leads to anyone that may have committed these murders.

MOLINEAUX: They really don't. And if not for the fact that Jennifer's remains had been discovered by chance on this property down here in Rockingham County, we wouldn't even know what had happened to her. There wasn't even any indication this might be the place to look for her. A homeowner and his dogs happen to come upon the skeletal remains, which turned out to be Jennifer.

But in terms of finding out why her parents were murdered, little to go on. In fact, the only real abnormality police are looking into was something in 1992, when some strange person showed up apparently with some beef against Mary Short and was looking for her at work. That was 10 years ago -- just to give you an idea of how far afield police find themselves looking, trying to figure this one out.

Charles Molineaux, with the latest from Rockingham County, North Carolina, thank you.


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