Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11, best friends in a combined 5th and 6th grade class at Graham Public School, were shot multiple times in the head and chest with two different guns on June 8, 2008.
For agents with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation who never forgot about the slaying along North 3890 Road, their luck changed over the summer as they pieced together an unrelated murder: that of 23-year-old Ashley Taylor, allegedly slain by her fiancé, Kevin Joe Sweat.
Authorities found the woman's charred remains in Sweat's backyard. Then, days later, detectives made a new discovery in the yard: shell casings that matched those found next to the two dead girls.
Police now had two cases – one cold, one new – that they believe were solved almost at the same times. But while there were signs of a possible motive for the fiancée murder, police still are baffled about why Kevin Joe Sweat, 25, would have allegedly killed the young girls.
"I do not know ... why he did it," says Okfuskee County District Attorney Max Cook, who personally handed Sweat the documents charging him with two counts of shooting with intent to kill and two counts of first-degree murder in the girls' deaths.
Sweat made his first appearance last week in Okfuskee County courthouse where the judge entered a plea of not guilty to all three murders. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.
Fiancée MurderSweat wrote a cryptic blog post in 2008 saying he had a "secret for everyone." His blog posts reveal, in words and images, a troubled Naval veteran whose brother committed suicide in 2007 and who seemed obsessed with guns, knives and violence.
Then in May 2010, he wrote that his recent engagement to Taylor was the biggest mistake of his life.
This past July, Ashley's family said goodbye, thinking Sweat was taking her to New Orleans to get married. Weeks later, Sweat was back in town without her. Her family soon found pictures of Sweat holding knives and guns. In one photo, he was covered in blood. He eventually told detectives that he cut Ashley's throat.
Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation / AP
Matching Shells But No WeaponThat investigation uncovered the matching shell casings, but agents still needed to put the gun that murdered the girls in Sweat's hands. They looked into Sweat's weapon-purchase history, and learned that Sweat and the Baltimore Police Department had owned the same .40-caliber gun. Apparently, the Baltimore Police Department had kept a shell casing. It, too, turned out to be a match to the casings from the murder scene on the Sweat property, according to court documents.
During a police interview on Sept. 13, after he learned that he had been connected with the homicides, Sweat then made a startling confession.
He told detectives that back in 2008 he had stopped his black Chevy Cavalier on North 3890 Road when he saw "two monsters" come at him. He says that he panicked, grabbed his Glock .40-caliber handgun from between the seats, "shot the monsters," then grabbed a .22-caliber gun from the glove box and fired that as well, according to the court papers.
Joe Mosher, Taylor's uncle, tells PEOPLE he believes Sweat made the remark about "monsters" to set the stage for a possible insanity defense down the road, although it is not known if Sweat suffers from any significant mental disorder.
Mosher says the new charges connecting Sweat with the 2008 shootings have brought a mixture of relief and anger for the families, who have struggled for more than three years to understand who would have gunned down the defenseless girls as they strolled along a peaceful dirt road near Taylor's home.
"When they notified me he was in jail, all I wanted was to go in jail with him," Mosher says, implying that he wanted to take justice into his own hands. His family, however, told him to instead let justice run its course.