WELEETKA, Okla. - Maybe they stumbled onto a crime in progress. Perhaps they were ambushed by "drunks and dopeheads." Or maybe it was some kind of thrill killing.
The slayings of two girls - ages 11 and 13 - who were shot along a rural back road have baffled investigators and struck fear into townspeople, who are now afraid to let their children out of their sight.
"Still no motive, and I hate to say that," Ben Rosser, an agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, said Wednesday. "This could be some kind of random thrill killing, it could be an attempted abduction, it could be somebody that just for whatever reason had a personal motive, maybe mistaken identity or possibly they did interrupt something down near the bridge. We just don't know."
Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11, were killed Sunday afternoon near a bridge. Both had been shot in the head and chest.
The brutality has rattled this working-class community of 1,000, situated 70 miles south of Tulsa.
Weleetka has long been the type of place folks moved to to escape many of the evils of the world. But townspeople said methamphetamine use - a particular scourge in small-town Oklahoma and elsewhere in the nation's heartland - has gotten bad around here, and crime is up.
"You think you're safe anywhere, but you're not. All the thugs is moving out here, too," said Skyla's grandfather, Jimmie Farrow. "It's a whole new ballgame."
Investigators said two guns were used in the killings, which suggests there were two gunmen. But beyond that, locals have been left to guess who did it and why.
"I could walk down Main Street in Weleetka and maybe pass the individual and I wouldn't know it right now," Rosser said. He added: "This should just hit to the very core of America. I just think two little girls can't go walking down a country lane road in this day and age. It's pretty sad."
Authorities are examining tire tracks, shell casings, bullets and shoeprints for any possible leads. They said they suspect a local person was involved because the killings occurred in such an isolated area. Rosser said that nothing is being ruled out but that there is no indication family or friends were involved.
Full autopsy results have not been released, but investigators said it appears the girls were not molested. They noted the youngsters were clothed and the bodies were found only about a half-hour after the girls began walking.
Sheriff Jack Choate, admitted: "We don't know what the threat is, but if it were me, I wouldn't let my kids out walking unless there were other people around, you know, that you knew."
Children are heeding the warning.
"I'm scared to go out of my house right now," said 14-year-old Tyler Couch, who knew the victims.
Taylor's family moved here to get her away from the violence in Oklahoma City, according to her uncle, Joe Mosher. Skyla's moved from Baxter Springs, Kan., outside of Joplin, Mo., for a taste of the simple life, Farrow said.
Both families thought they found what they were looking for along an isolated country road, where the neighbors are hidden from one another by the thick woods, Farrow said.
Farrow and other neighbors said they have noticed a change in the backwoods. Time was, Farrow said, he could go hunting on his property, leave his gun propped up against the house, and nobody would touch it. In the past 10 years, he has been robbed three times, he said.
The dirt roads, which Skyla and Taylor walked dozens of times for sleepovers, have changed, too, according to Farrow.
"It just went downhill out in the country," he said. "These roads ain't nothing but drunks and dopeheads on the weekends. Sometimes, you have to drive around them, they're passed out in the middle of the road."
A neighbor, Ross Padgett, said drugs and the criminal element are worse than ever.
"Marijuana, meth, coke, you name it," he said. "A number of the meth cookers are right over in this community. They are busting them so hard in the cities, they are going rural." He lifted his shirt to reveal a 9 mm pistol, saying, "I'm not worried."
He said his 10-year-old son, Dakota, arms himself with a knife when he goes out to play on the family's land. The boy has also been trained with a gun.
"I'm good with a shot," Dakota said. "I'm pretty good with almost any gun."
A reward for information leading to an arrest in the case was increased Wednesday to $25,000.
Michael Grigsby, chaplain for the Sheriff's Office, called the killings "a tremendous slap in the face of reality."
"This is not supposed to happen in the heartland of America. Everyone wants to live where their kids can walk down a gravel road," Grigsby said. "It takes a while for a community like ours to wrap our minds around it."