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Incident shocks, outrages community

September 21, 1997

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Lynn Nolet said people she talked to Saturday agreed that whoever is responsible for the disappearance of 7-year-old Jessica Newell should be "strung up in the middle of Martinsburg for everyone to see."

Parents expressed shock at the discovery Saturday evening of a body believed to be Jessica's.

"Oh my God, I'm going to go vomit," said Berkeley County Commission President Jim Smith.

"My reaction as a parent, grandparent, former school superintendent (is) this is just distressful. I'm hurt and troubled," said Smith.

Nolet, a mother of three who lives just down the street from where Jessica was abducted, said the incident is especially disturbing because it is the second kidnapping of a child in the area in four months.

Jessica Newell disappeared from Pikeside Bowl at about 8:30 p.m. Thursday.

In May, a 7-year-old girl was abducted from a mobile home in the Middle Creek Villages mobile home park, which is just south of Pikeside Bowl along U.S. 11. In that case, the girl was taken to a remote section of western Jefferson County, where she told police she was sexually assaulted.

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"It proves we're not a small town anymore. Everybody is real concerned and upset over it," said Eugene Hunley, president of the Parent-Teachers Association at Berkeley Heights Elementary School, where Jessica was a second-grade student.

After Jessica was reported missing, Hunley said he and his wife sat down with their two young girls and emphasized again the do's and don't's of how to act around strangers.

Tom Fletcher, a teacher at Berkeley Heights Elementary, said he dreaded going to work Monday.

"We were just shocked to hear she's missing. I'm sure that's going to be a very traumatic thing on Monday. That's going to be horrible," said Fletcher.

Kimberly VanMetre, 34, of Martinsburg, said she bowled regularly with relatives of Jessica.

VanMetre said she was at Pikeside Bowl on Thursday night, and helped search the area behind the parking lot after a bloodhound appeared to have picked up Jessica's trail.

VanMetre said her children, who frequently accompany her to the bowling alley, weren't there Saturday evening.

"I've come here 10 years and I never thought of this happening here. I'm just stunned. I told my kids they just weren't coming tonight," she said.

Pat and Bill Baker, of Bunker Hill, were at the bowling alley with their daughter Michaela, 9, watching her closely as she played games in the arcade.

"To lose your child - it's a nightmare," said Bill Baker, 46. "Next to dying, it's the worst feeling."

Baker said he can't imagine the horror that Jessica's parents are going through.

Pat Baker, 42, said school officials had announced Friday that children should be cautious of any strangers.

Staff writer Clyde Ford contributed to this story.

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