In this rural South Carolina town, a few summer schools began Monday, businesses opened following the July Fourth weekend, and the 13,000 residents sought to go about their business as usual.
But the town — and the rest of Cherokee County, total population about 50,000 — is gripped with fear. Over the past nine days, a serial killer has left five people dead, police say. The killer’s latest victim was 15-year-old Abby Tyler, who was shot last week and died Saturday. Her father, Stephen Tyler, 48, was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting in their family-run furniture and appliance store. As residents mourned the Tylers over the weekend, they also had words of warning for the man terrorizing the community. “If he comes to me, face to face, I’m ready, I’m loaded, and I’m aimed for him,” said Sarah Banister, neighbor of one of the killer’s victims. “I’m afraid for my life,” said Robby Banister, her husband. “It’s going to be kind of like a dog fight. I’m telling you: I’m going to win.”
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In an interview Monday with CNN’s “American Morning,” Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton said investigators have determined “through evidence” that the five killings are linked. Authorities are not giving details about the evidence. “We don’t have a current motive or connection between the murders,” said Blanton. “With a community this small, it’s very possible I knew all the victims and it’s possible that all the victims knew each other. But we don’t have any information right now that links the killer to [them].” Police have released a sketch which they say is their best guess at the killer’s appearance, based on witness reports. He is identified as a white male, approximately 6 feet 2 inches tall, with salt-and-pepper hair. Authorities believe he may be driving a 1991 to 1994 Ford Explorer, possibly “goldish-tan or champagne” in color, said Blanton. “We’re focusing on anything that even looks like a Ford Explorer,” said Blanton. Witnesses have said the killer appears to weigh about 250 pounds, “so we’re saying probably 230 to 250,” he said. The killer was possibly wearing a ball cap, but his clothes at each scene have been different, Blanton added. The first shooting occurred June 27, when peach farmer Kline W. Cash, 63, was killed. His wife found him dead in their home, the sheriff’s office said. Blanton said Cash’s home may have been robbed. Four days later, the bound and shot bodies of 83-year-old Hazel Linder and her 50-year-old daughter, Gena Linder Parker, were found in Linder’s home, where she lived alone. Blanton said authorities are still trying to determine if anything was taken from that home. Leave has been canceled for all members of the police department and the sheriff’s department, said their respective chiefs. About 100 investigators from North and South Carolina are working the case, Blanton said.
Asked how residents can try to stay safe, Blanton said, “Generally it’s the same information just a crime prevention officer would use. People need to check on their neighbors, especially family, loved ones that live alone or elderly that live together. Travel in at least groups of two or more. But I’ve noticed the community is concerned and have a right to be.” People in Cherokee County are operating “on regular schedules” and businesses are open, said Blanton. “But people are using caution. And that’s what we’re asking them to do. Just be cautious until we do catch this murderer.”