HENRY COUNTY, Va. — As search teams set out for miles around the Short family’s Oak Level home, family members called for whoever abducted 9-year-old Jennifer to release her.
“That was one of the worst feelings of my life that I’ve had at this point, too many questions and not enough answers,” said Jennifer’s aunt Carolyn Short. “Because that’s a lot. It’s one thing to lose one or to lose a child. But when you lose a whole family, that’s a lot.”
For six weeks, she remembers her life upturned with no clues as to where the little girl could be.
“She was a fun-loving child. She was a smart child, and she loved her parents to death. Not one more than the other, but both, equally,” Carolyn said.
Carolyn learned someone killed her brother Michael and his wife Mary by watching the news. One of Michael’s employees found the two killed execution-style with a single gunshot wound.
“That took a big chunk out of my life that I’ll never get back,” Carolyn said.
One of the last places Jennifer was seen was the Circle C convenient store just several hundred yards from the home.
Volunteers traveled across state lines to help look for Jennifer, but no one knew what the little girl was wearing or who she could be with.
Henry County investigators brought in criminal profilers from the FBI to help in the search.
“This was the only case like this at the time. So it was hard to profile,” said Lt. Curtis Spence, of the sheriff’s office. “The profile that we got was very very general, and they couldn’t pin it down anymore because this was the only case like it at the time.”
He explained that authorities filmed Michael and Mary’s funeral, hoping they could catch anything that would lead them to Jennifer.
“We had no idea who actually committed this horrendous act. And we did not know if they may even show up at the funeral kind of as a trophy. Or the possibility that if it was someone close to the family their actions may give away what they had done,” he said.
Caitlin Layne, now in her 20s, says Jennifer was one of her first friends at Figsboro Elementary School.
“It’s something that, like there would be a movie on TV about, so for it to happen in real life, and for me as a person to be somewhat not a part of it but involved, in the person’s life it’s just kind of surreal,” she said. “Especially when I was younger I was like, there’s no way that this really happened.”
Teachers set up Jennifer’s desk for the first day of school, remaining hopeful she would be there on the first day.
Layne said she doesn’t recall much from the days leading up to school, except her mother telling her something happened to her friend.
“Because they found her parents at first and Jennifer was just missing at first,” she said. “She didn’t give me any details about anything, she was like they found Jennifer’s parents this morning, and Jennifer wasn’t at the house. Just a very vague, I think the vaguest explanation but more so to protect me I think.”
After six weeks of intense searches, Jennifer’s remains would be found more than 30 miles from the home.
This is part of our series on Jennifer Short’s disappearance and death.