Infamous Lesbian Murder Case Cracked in Texas: Alleged Shooter Arrested After Two-Year Investigation
Portland, Texas – Nearly two years after teenage lesbian lovers were abducted and shot on a steep grassy hillside in this South Texas coastal town, a 27-year-old suspect has finally been arrested, according to Portland, Texas law enforcement authorities. David Malcolm Strickland was arrested Friday and charged with the capital murder of Mollie Olgin, 19 at the time of the shooting, and for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of Kristene Chapa, 18, whom he allegedly shot in the head at the same time. Chapa survived, though the damage to the left side of her brain left her unable to walk, sit, or stand. Only with years of therapy and surgery has Chapa been able to reacquire her balance and mobility. In addition to these charges, the shooter has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. Details are still emerging from the investigation, and further charges may be brought, according to authorities. Strickland’s wife, Laura Kimberly, 23, has also been detained by Portland Police, and faces charges of tampering with evidence.
“I hope that it gives [the victims, their families, and community members] some closure knowing that this person is taken off the street,” Portland Police Chief Gary Giles said to NBC News. “It is one day before the two-year anniversary. We’ve been working very hard to make sure we get him as soon as possible. A series of fortunate events has led us to this point and I’m just very happy that we could help in — at least at this point — in bringing him to justice.”
Strickland was apprehended in the Helotes suburb of San Antonio on Friday by Texas Rangers and U.S. Marshals. Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals, and Portland Police officers took Strickland’s wife into custody. Robert R. Almonte, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas told NBC News, “My sympathies and condolences to the victims and their families who had to endure this wicked act of violence. [Strickland] is a stone cold killer who thought he got away with murder, but will finally pay for his crime.”
The reconstructed murder event that took place in Portland remains chilling, even after two years. Chapa, now 20 years old, said she went with Olgin on Friday night, June 23, 2012 to Violet Andrews Park, to see where Olgin had been baptized. The suspect forced the teenagers at gun point down a steep incline where he bound them, sexually assaulted them, and shot them both, leaving them to die. A couple out bird watching the next morning discovered the victims. Olgin had died of her wounds, but Chapa, who had clawed her way out of the sharp, thorny brush, survived, and was rushed to a medical center for emergency surgery. Chapa returned to the scene of the crime to assist investigators. She recounted to a reporter how difficult it was for her to go back to the place where her lover died so cruelly. “I felt every cut, every thorn go through my hand,” she said of the brush she fought to get out of, pointing to the scars still plainly visible on her arms. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get help.’”
Sergeant Roland Chavez of the Portland Police Department discussed the investigation with reporters. DNA evidence from finger prints around the crime scene initially belonged to over 250 suspects, Chavez said. Then the slow process of singling out the shooter had to go step-by-step. Investigators wanted to make sure they had the right man before making the arrest, else they feared Chapa would only be victimized again by a false ID. The shooter used a .45 caliber handgun on the teenagers, sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Friday, June 23, 2012. The teenagers had no prior knowledge of their attacker, which complicated the case, making it even seem more brutal and bizarre. Neither did the suspect have a previous criminal record, providing officers another hurdle to overcome. Chavez speculated that the shooter may have fantasized about such a crime long before the actual event, and worked himself up to doing it over time. The birdwatching couple who discovered Olgin and Chapa stumbled across the gruesome scene at about 8:30 a.m. the next day.
Authorities are still at a loss to explain the motive for the crime at this point. They have consistently ruled out anti-lesbian hatred as a motive, but the suspicion that homophobia and certainly heterosexism may have played a part in targeting the couple just won’t go away. Hate crimes against women are particularly difficult to sort out, since homophobia is so often a weapon of sexism.
Chapa still struggles to open and close her left hand. The bullet destroyed the area of her brain controlling motion on her left side. Her wounds left her an invalid, much like a stroke victim. Hard work, support, and courage are paying off. Though she will never regain total mobility, Chapa told reporters that she knows she will almost get there, if she just keeps up the struggle. Worse for her is the loss of her girlfriend, Mollie Olgin. “Every day I think about her,” she said of Olgin. “I pray for her, just for her to watch over me.” Since the attack, Chapa has reached out to other victims of gun violence and paralysis, like the families devastated by the Newtown School shooting in Connecticut. “I opened up myself to them and just told them how my story is similar, I just put my feelings in there,” she said to NBC News, also saying that she hopes “to meet more victims who have been shot because we relate. I’m pretty sure we’ve been through a lot of the same things and have felt the same ways.”
She and her parents are still appealing to the public to help fund Chapa’s rehabilitation, care, and recovery. Her family has exhausted their resources, and though a good deal of money has been donated these past two years, it hasn’t been enough. Chapa says that she and her folks are “pretty much alone” in the effort to finance her health care. The funding site originally set up to assist with Chapa’s care has been discontinued without public explanation.
After a news conference arranged by the Portland Police Department to announce Strickland’s arrest, Chapa reflected on her feelings. Though she told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times she felt safer now that the suspect was in custody, the pain and loss are still there for her. “It will never take back the pain and hurt he did to our families. And it won’t bring Mollie back,” she said. “Right now for both our families this is very hard.”
San Patricio District Attorney Michael Welborn believes they have their man. “We feel we have a very strong case to put forth,” he said. “We fully believe that we are going to bring justice to these two young ladies and their families.”
Asheville, North Carolina – William “Ben” Wood was 21 when he died on the floor of his dorm at UNC-Asheville. Friends who found him said that he was drawn up in a fetal position on May 8, 2013, having slashed open his veins. The loss of this sensitive, justice-seeking young gay man is a tragedy by most accounts–his friends and school mates say he was a fine student, but in recent months his grades and school performance had plunged. The university junior couldn’t deal with the prospect of going back to his neighborhood in Asheville without being a student any longer, according to his mother’s account in the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog. As a teen, he had been irreparably wounded by a Youth Leader at his home church as he prepared to go on a Mission trip with his friends from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.
His mom, Julie Wood, recounts how the misguided Youth Leader singled out her son for being gay in front of his peers. The leader said, “You all know, we all know, that Ben is gay. Who here is comfortable being around him?” Demanding a response from each youth in the group, the Leader then said, “Do you understand that Ben is going to hell?” Once again, the Youth Leader pressed each youth for an answer about Ben. Crushed, exposed, and broken by the experience, Ben came home while his UMYF friends left on the bus for the Mission Trip. His mother, who stalwartly contends that their home church is a loving and supportive place, says that this was the trigger experience she believes led to the suicide of her son a few agonizing years later. Mrs. Wood writes:
“Ben was told that he was not worthy of going on the mission trip. He had been shamed, humiliated, and betrayed. He was told that he did not deserve to be a part of the group. He was no representative of God.
Out of our front window, I saw the goldish colored Caviler abruptly whip into our driveway. Ben ran up the porch steps and stood in the doorway. One look, and I knew, something horrible had happened. The flushed sides of his cheeks quivered as did his lip. His breathing was rapid and his eyes just about to spill over.
The church bus was loaded with Ben’s friends to go on that mission trip while my betrayed and broken son, walked alone around Salem Lake. He must have felt so very abandoned and isolated.
While he never lost his compassion for others, I think that this was the day that he gave up on people and God.”
Skeptics may argue that there is no clear correspondence between the suicide of a young gay man years after the shaming incident that took place in a church youth group in his teens. Others will say that the church is basically a loving and supportive place, but is put in a hard situation by teachings like those of the United Methodist Church that send an ambiguous, essentially rejecting message about lesbians and gay people. On the one hand, the social teachings of the church say that every person, including “homosexuals,” is of “sacred worth.” On the other, the United Methodist Church stubbornly rejects homosexuality as “incompatible” with Christian teaching–denying ordination and marriage to LGBT people, and defrocking their clergy who carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, or who live openly as lesbian or gay people.
So, who stands guilty of Ben Wood’s death? The Youth Minister who was applying what he believed the teachings of his church on homosexuality to be? Ben’s so-called “friends” who one-by-one (under pressure from an adult leader, of course) abandoned Ben to shame and broken heartedness? The theologians and clergy of the church, who cannot seem to reconcile the love of God on the one hand, and social heterosexism and homophobia on the other? And what of Ben’s own responsibility to transcend the suffering of his youth–though this latter argument is little more than blaming a victim for his own demise?
Bens’ obituary says he was a genuine, complex, and worthwhile human being. The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel records that Ben “was a member of Sedge Garden United Methodist Church and was a Junior at UNC-Asheville. Ben had a kind and loving soul, with a great sense of humor. He was particularly compassionate to the needs and struggles of others more than himself and was a great journalist. To his younger sisters, Ben was a great big brother who shared lots of walks in the creeks and scavenger hunts with their stuffed animals.” The obituary goes on to say that three clergy spoke at his funeral, and that his own maternal grandfather was a clergyman. But Ben found so little hospitality and comfort from the churches around him and the clergy who served them that he could not and did not reach out to them in his darkest hours. So, a sensitive, socially conscious young man, who happened to be gay and Christian, took his own life.
Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, and a native North Carolinian himself, issues this opinion and prayer for other young LGBT persons: “The churches and their leadership have much to answer for in the deaths of young people like Ben Wood. While we may not be able to point to a smoking gun linking the suicide of young persons condemned by church teachings to the culpability of the churches, there is no doubt that Christian heterosexism and homophobia contribute to the climate that denigrates LGBTQ people and creates undue suffering in their lives. Indeed, there are progressive and welcoming churches and clergy, and for them we give thanks. But they are too few, and the silence of church people about the prejudice condemning LGBTQ folk is a major contributing factor in the horror of spiritual violence against them.”
Dr. Sprinkle concludes: “Let us be crystal clear about this: the heterosexism and homophobia Ben Wood experienced in his life is a Christian heresy–one the churches and clergy of every stripe must find the courage to repent of and repudiate. And we must do everything we can to make amends to youth like Ben, and to their families.”
Forest Hill, Texas – A Tarrant County mother faces charges of abuse for using an electrical cord to whip her 15-year-old son whom she caught in same-sex act with an 18-year-old boy. CBSDFW reports that Erica Moore is adamantly defending her son’s punishment, claiming she was well within her rights to beat the child. “I actually caught this going on in my house so how was I supposed to react to it? I supposed to just let it go? No! We was taught to discipline our kids and we whoop our kids,” she said.
The “whooping” was severe enough to draw the attention of authorities who say she faces charges of assault with bodily injury to a family member, which, if proven, carries jail time with it. Police learned of the crime when the boy’s grandmother took him to a hospital emergency room to have his wounds treated. The beating left the boy with cut skin, bruises, and bleeding on his forearms, legs, back, torso, and hands.
Ms. Moore is fighting the charges on the grounds that she was taught to “whoop” her children, and that homosexuality is a sin. Waking up to sounds in her son’s room, she said she opened his bedroom door and found her boy having sex with his 18-year-old male cousin. Her account to Joe Gomez of KRLD News Radio was explicit in detail:
“My cousin at the time he was 18. My son he was 15 and I had walked in the room on [my cousin] giving oral sex to my son and I started whooping my son, and I’m the one who got in trouble as a result of me whooping him,” she said. “When I walked in I saw my son, it was just disgusting to me, the way he was looking and my cousin was looking, and my cousin immediately ran out the door. And I’m just like what the?!? You know, is you serious? So that was my reaction because it disgusted me.”
Continuing her justification of her actions, she said that if she caught her daughter doing something similar, she would beat her in the same way.
Forest Hill, a quiet mid-city situated between Fort Worth and Arlington, is typical in attitude toward perceived homosexuality in suburban North Texas. Ms. Moore said that when a Forest Hill Police Officer arrived to investigate, he said that if he had caught his boy in the same situation, he would have wanted to shoot him and his lover on the spot, but that the law prevented beating a child like she beat hers. Weeks later, the police arrested Ms. Moore for the beating, perhaps indicating the heterosexist sympathy of law enforcement for a mother brave enough attempt to “beat the gay” out of her son.
KRLD interviewed Child Protective Services spokesperson Marissa Gonzalez about the case. “If you are leaving the child with severe injuries or bruises,” she said, “then obviously we might be talking about abuse.”
The Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex has a massive problem with children in their teens and earlier who are beaten, disowned, and forced out of their homes by parents who despise their sexual exploration and homosexual behavior. While nothing conclusively identifies Ms. Moore’s son as gay, he is headed toward becoming a sad statistic. Joanna Jenkins of Circle of Moms says that children deserve unconditional love, not judgment or punishment for their actual or imagined sexual orientation. She writes: “The question is: ‘How can you help your gay child?’ You can help your gay child with unconditional love and acceptance. We are talking about your child. Someone you gave birth to, who is a part of you. Do you want them to live a life of pain and guilt? Quote the Bible to them. It will not stop them from being who they are. Some gay children experience so much guilt and shame that they take their own life. Could you live with yourself if your child killed his/herself because you couldn’t accept them for who they are? Your child is still your child, gay or straight. The only thing that has changed is what you know about your child. A true mother’s love is unconditional and will be there long after she is gone.”
La Grande, Oregon – A 15-year-old gay teen who attempted suicide after being harassed by bullies on the internet was removed from life support late last week. Anti-gay bullying, which the young Jadin Bell faced for years, has been identified by his friends as the prime cause of his act of desperation.
Bell, a sophomore at La Grande High School, hanged himself from a playground structure at Central Elementary School, according to KATU News. A quick response from a passer-by rescued him. The youth was rushed to a local hospital and placed on life support. Hill was then transferred to a major Portland trauma center, where he had been clinging to life until the family determined that further heroic efforts to keep him breathing were in vain.
The La Grande community rallied to support Bell and his family with a vigil on January 25 which was attended by over 200 people, many of whom had great memories and good things to say about the gifted youth who loved cheerleading, and volunteered at a senior citizen’s care facility. But the undertone of the vigil was a mixture of frustration and denial–frustration that a second young person had fallen prey to bullying (a 16-year-old girl had taken her life in La Grande earlier in the year), and denial of the overarching reason Jadin Bell had hanged himself: anti-gay bullying. No mention of the anti-gay harassment Hill suffered on the internet and in person was made in the reportage surrounding the vigil, even though the cause was well known throughout the town of 13,000 in Northeastern Oregon.
In a Skype interview, Bud Hill, a friend and mentor of Bell, told KATU reporters that the family considers anti-gay bullying the aggravating issue in their son’s suicide. Hill, who has vowed to start a foundation in Jadin Bell’s memory, said that the youth’s sensitivity and kindness made him a target to school toughs. “He was different, and they tend to pick on the different ones,” Hill said.
Bell had avoided confronting his harassers, saying to his family that making their hateful attacks on him public would only make his torment worse. But in recent days, the family says, Bell had gone to school officials to complain of the verbal assaults on his sexual orientation. The superintendent had initiated an investigation into Bell’s allegations, which was proceeding at the time of the suicide attempt.
“Driven to suicide”: the phrase rolls too easily off the tongue. The horror of the loss of Jadin Bell is that he is one of so many. Every town and city in the nation is susceptible to become the next La Grande. The time to stop the homophobic violence preying on the youth of the nation is now, not after it is too late.
The Trevor Helpline operates the nation’s only 24/7 suicide and crisis hotline for gay and questioning youth. Don’t wait any longer. Call the Trevor Helpline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR (1-866-488-7386).
Seale, Alabama – Eastern Alabama police announce that a hate crime bomb plot targeting gay and black classmates of a 17-year-old white supremacist has been foiled in Russell County.
Authorities arrested Derek Shrout, a self-proclaimed white power advocate, last Friday, responding swiftly to threats to bomb Russell County High School written in Shrout’s own personal journal. The journal, carelessly left behind in a classroom by Shrout, fell into the hands of a teacher, who rushed the document into the hands of police investigators. According to WTVM-TV, Shrout threatened in his journal to harm six students and one teacher, citing hatred of blacks and gays as his motive. Russell County Sheriff Heath Taylor told reporters, “The journal contained several plans that looked like potential terrorist attacks, and attacks of violence and danger on the school.” Five of the students Shrout specifically named were black. Shrout believed the sixth student he named was gay, also a class of persons the 17-year-old professed to hate.
Sheriff Taylor said that the mass killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut were an inciting factor in Shrout’s intention to bomb the high school. The first entry showing the student’s intent to attack his school is on December 17, only three days after the horrific Sandy Hook massacre. Fox News reports that law enforcement officers discovered over 25 smokeless tobacco tins and two larger cans with holes drilled in them in Shrout’s rooms on Friday. The tins were filled with pellets, partially outfitted as homemade bombs and grenades. One of the tins was labeled “Fat Man,” and another “Little Boy,” apparently in emulation of the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. The improvised bombs were only “a step or two away from being ready to explode,” the Sheriff observed, going on to say that the quick thinking of school officials averted a horrible outcome. “The system worked and thank God, it did,” he said. “We avoided a very bad situation.”
In his own defense, Shrout claims that the entries in his journal were fictions, and that he never intended to harm classmates or the teacher. He was held in custody on $75,000 bond on a felony charge of assault until a court appearance this Monday, when he made bail. The presiding judge released Shrout under the following conditions: he must remain at home; wear a GPS locator bracelet on his ankle; refrain from initiating contact with anyone connected to the school; and be monitored by a parent while on the Internet. A court date for the teen has been set for February 12.
Shrout, who moved to Alabama from Kansas with his military family, had become well-known in Russell County High for his anti-gay and racist views. Classmates noted that he and a circle of other white supremacist friends often espoused white power propaganda, and gave each other the Nazi salute. Senior Class President David Kelly is quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “In the hallway, at breakfast, at the lunch tables, after school where we have our bus parking lot, he’d have his big old group of friends and they’d go around doing the whole white power crazy stuff.”
Authorities say that the teen was involved in neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups, and had learned bomb making from the internet. Now his classmates are expressing anger and frustration at Shrout’s intended attack on their school. David White, who used to hang out with Shrout after JROTC meetings, exclaimed to reporters, “Why would you want to go to a school and blow it up? You know you’re going to hit somebody else; you’re not just going to, in particular, hit one person. You’re going to injure more than one.”