Hundreds Mourn Slain Virginia Couple, Pray for Missing Jennifer Short

Family and friends of a slain couple said goodbye Thursday and pleaded and prayed for the safe return of the couple's 9-year-old daughter, who has been missing since her parents were killed last week.

At the funeral for Michael and Mary Short, Pastor Jackie Poe urged Jennifer Short's captors to return the girl. Although authorities don't know her whereabouts, he said, "God knows where she is."

Jennifer's grandmother, Margaret Hall, led about 200 people past the flower-lined caskets at the Martinsville Church of God. Most wore yellow ribbons, symbols of hope that Jennifer will come home safely.

One week after Michael Short, 50, and Mary Short, 36, were killed in their red-brick ranch home, Jennifer's picture has been posted on storefronts, homes and tractor-trailers. Signs throughout western Virginia's rural Henry County ask motorists to pray for the girl.

"Ain't no sense in what's been done," cousin Thomas Arrington said before the funeral. "That's what's aggravating. I don't know why anyone would take people out of their bed like that."

Mourners remembered the Shorts as a private family that enjoyed being together. Poe said Michael was a "happy go lucky" trickster who would disguise his voice in phone calls to his sister. Mary, Poe said, was caring and helpful to others.

"That's a wonderful quality for a daughter like Jennifer to follow," he said.

Meanwhile, investigators still have no suspects, and leads that came from around the country have dried up.

Investigators called off a ground search earlier in the week and have begun to focus on a few acquaintances and former employees of the Short family. The Secret Service has sent Spanish translators to help them question some of Michael Short's former employees.

Henry County Sheriff Frank Cassell has indicated that the killer or killers knew the family, and that the Shorts were likely asleep when the crimes occurred. But authorities don't know whether the primary motive was to kill the parents or abduct the girl.

"We've heard reports of everything," Cassell said. "We just need to sort out what's fact and what's fiction."

Teachers at Jennifer's school, Figsboro Elementary, met Thursday to prepare for the new school year. Jennifer, who was to start the fourth grade Monday, will have a desk waiting for her.

"I'm just hopeful and praying that she'll come back," said science teacher Laurie Young.

The school also will hold a penny drive to raise money like they did after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, this time to raise money for Jennifer.

School social worker Carmala Shively said she hopes to keep the first day as normal as possible. There are no plans for a schoolwide assembly or other forums to discuss what happened, but that may change, she said.

"We'll take our cues from the students," Shively said.