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Small Town Pulls Together In Wake Of Teen’s Murder

March 11, 1986 GMT

FOREST, Miss. (AP) _ The face of Shondra May stares from stark black and white posters in restaurants, the post office and city hall - even in the dress stores where the high school senior may have shopped for her prom gown.

The black-and-white reward posters of the pretty, hazel-eyed brunette are a constant reminder of the brutal way in which she was kidnapped, raped and murdered. She was 17.

Until the February disappearance, this county seat was known as the boyhood home of the late Sen. James Eastland and for its poultry farms.

But this town of less than 6,000, named for its towering pine trees, has been jolted into reality by the slaying. Residents have found that crime can happen anywhere.

″This town is really shook up,″ said Mayor Fred Gaddis, who grew up in Forest and has been in office almost 20 years. ″We always hear about this happening somewhere else. It has made us realize that these things can even happen here.″

Residents have helped raise a reward of $46,930 to help find the killer or killers, but authorities say they have few leads.

Gaddis donated $1,000 to the reward effort. He said the kidnap-murder has frightened and unified town residents - and, even more, those who live, like the Mays, along the area’s rural highways.

Women, for the most part, no longer travel alone at night, and parents are keeping a tighter rein on their children. Some have purchased guns.

But the concern of this town - and of towns across Mississippi - is best typified by the display of support for the May family, and the people’s commitment to apprehending whomever is responsible.

The governments of Scott County, where the Mays live, and neighboring Leake County each voted to donate $2,500 to the reward fund, the maximum allowed by law. Donations from other local governments quickly followed, as did offerings from individuals and businesses across the state.

″The response has been great, very heartening. Donations range from $10 from individuals to $5,000 from corporations,″ said Sid Salter, publisher- editor of the weekly Scott County Times. ″Our only hope is that we can pay it out, and the person is caught.″

Time weighs heavily on the minds of Richard and Gennell May as they wait for investigators to bring them good news. Although their daughter’s body was found on Feb. 26, authorities say they have no suspects.


″It’s real hard to just wait like this, but it is better than those 22 days of waiting to find out what had happened to her,″ May said as he sat with his wife in their living room, where portraits of Miss May and the couple’s 18-year-old son, Tim, hang on the wall.

″Our faith has kept us sane so far, and it will continue to do that,″ he said.

Looking at his daughter’s portrait, May added, ″All this time we thought we lived in a real safe place. We found out the hard way that no place is safe any more.″

Miss May was abducted while on her way home from work one night in early February. Her car was abandoned about 50 yards from her front door - at the end of the winding driveway leading to the Mays’ red brick house.

Her nude body was found 22 days later - on what would have been her 18th birthday - floating in a creek more than 50 miles away.

Officials believe heavy packing tape wound tightly around Miss May’s neck slowly strangled her. Her wrist and ankles were also bound with tape. Pathologists said she was raped, and that her head was struck with a heavy object.