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We need answers to explain inexplicable

Published Sep. 29, 2005

The bodies just keep piling up.

Every year, it seems, the same thing happens, often more than once. Another man, woman or child dies in Citrus County under very unusual circumstances, and the rest of us are left wondering why.

The details differ; sometimes it's an unsolved murder, other times there is no way to describe the situation other than bizarre.

The authorities do the best they can to answer the questions, but ultimately, they can't resolve them. No one is held accountable for the death, and the victim becomes yet another name on an ever-growing list.

Now, we're about to add another name: Milissa Hunt, the 5-year-old pixie who was mauled to death by a pack of pit bullterriers in July.

While the investigation technically remains open, law enforcement officials tell us there is virtually no chance that anyone will be charged in the case.

Not the four adults who failed to supervise the animals or protect Milissa as the dogs tore her apart; not the social worker who admitted she "cut corners" on the case the day before the attack.

I guess we're all supposed to just shrug and say that's life.

Last year, it was Natalie Courtney, a 4-month-old beauty who died from trauma caused by someone smashing her head against her crib. Her father was acquitted of charges that he killed his daughter, and no one else has been or will be prosecuted in the case.

Natalie's name is now on the list.

It's not just children, of course. Joseph Randall Shoemaker was 38 when his body was found in September 1998, burned beyond recognition in a Chevy Blazer in Floral City. Was it an accident or murder? Will we ever know? Will anyone ever be held accountable?

James Dore was only 29 in 1995 when his body was found on a remote Floral City road. Authorities say he died of blunt trauma to the head. No one has been charged.

It goes on and on.

Tina Shaukat, 21, shot to death in a Holder convenience store in 1989. Ethel Reynolds, 86, and Frieda DeMougin, 83, throats slashed in 1983. John Bilyou, 36, run over and left to die in Crystal River, 1989. Virginia Lawson, 63, stabbed to death in Crystal River in 1987. Mate Crawford, 49, shot to death in 1986, and dumped in Ozello.

Howard Smith, 51, stabbed to death outside the VFW post in Inverness in 1989. Dennis Baker, 30, tied to the back of his truck and dragged to death in 1985. Susan Smith, stabbed to death in 1973, her skeletal remains found off Rock Crusher Road.

There are more, too many more.

A man was doused in gasoline and burned to death in 1985 off County Road 490 in Homosassa Springs. He was never identified. Same with a woman whose body was found on Ozello Trail in 1989. She had been shot. Her name, and killer, remain a mystery.

In some of the cases, authorities are convinced that they know the name of the killer, they just can't meet the legal threshold to bring charges that will hold up in court.

Comments by a juror in the Courtney case help explain the frustration they and others feel about such cases.

"We went by the letter of the law," said Janice Whitman. "There were lots of tears shed, lots of hugs given and a lot of anger. I mean, we have a 4-month-old baby dead and no rhyme or reason for that.

"There's a baby dead. Maybe not intentionally, but it was not an accident. There's a higher power that will take care of it in time. Someone will pay."

Personally, I think we've been overdrawing on our account with that higher power for some time.

I'm not blaming law enforcement; only on television are complicated cases like these wrapped up in an hour _ with time left over for commercials. The real world is not that neat and clean.

And in the real world, bad things happen to good people for no good reason. Jade Gilstrap and her little boy Trent Nolan were just driving to Ocala when a dump truck driver had a fatal stroke and drove his massive rig over their car, killing both mother and son.

Why do these things happen? Maybe it's as simple as it was their time to go. Maybe we're not supposed to know why.

But it's human nature to want things to be resolved, to get answers. Psychologists call it closure.

And when someone is harmed, we want someone held accountable. We call it justice.

We don't always get that resolution, just more names on the list.

Somehow, saying that's life just doesn't cut it any more.