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West Texas Town Shocked Over Girl’s Death

August 28, 1992

EARTH, Texas (AP) _ Mothers never thought twice about leaving their cars running with their children inside while making a stop at the store in this west Texas farm community.

The 1,500 residents here have always taken pride in the town’s low crime rate and friendly people.

Now, many fear a killer might be living among them.

Five-year-old Shawnlee Perry was found dead Wednesday, 3 1/2 months after she disappeared. She was last seen May 7 when she went to play with friends near an abandoned church next to her home in this town 65 miles northwest of Lubbock.

Police are investigating the case as a homicide but said they had few leads. ″It could be a week or longer before we know the cause of death,″ pathologist Dr. Jody Nielsen said Thursday. ″The body was so decomposed.″

Word spread on Earth’s dusty main street Thursday after Shawnlee’s body was found about five miles west of town in a pasture by a man mowing grass.

″You think in a small town you are entitled to a few more privileges, like letting your kids play freely outside,″ said Lucretia Roland, a mother of three girls. ″No way. You can’t do it anymore - not even here.″

The community had mobilized immediately upon learning the girl was missing. Cotton farmers climbed out of their tractors and into their pickups to join in the search. Parents and children dug into trash bins and peered into bushes.

On Thursday, residents tore down hundreds of posters of the blond-haired, blue-eyed girl.

″It makes you kind of scared to go outside,″ said 9-year-old Kevin Rodriguez. ″I’m sure not going to stop and talk to any strangers.″

Arvel Fleming, a retired mechanic, was one of the curious to visit the thicket where the body was found. ″I think it ought to be a public hanging for whoever done this,″ he said.

Shawnlee’s parents, Becky and Clinton Perry, went into seclusion with their other child, Angela, 4, and with friends and relatives Thursday.

Mrs. Perry had bought Shawnlee school supplies in hopes she would be found and would be able to enroll this week in kindergarten.

″We never gave up hope,″ said her sister, Paulette Garner.

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