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FAMILY SUFFERS ANOTHER LOSS

A Land O'Lakes family strives to help, hold and love, but cannot save the youngest child.

It's 1997 and the family is in a room in Texas, waiting for the murderer to die. He killed their Jennifer. Jeremy was the one who found his sister's body. He was 8 at the time, when she died Jan. 20, 1988.

There was room for only one family member to witness the execution, so dad Tom Colhouer went inside. But Jeremy was angry. He wanted to see the man die. Without that, it wouldn't be real. He sat in the room with his mother, Cheryl, and little sister, Megan, while Michael Lee Lockhart was executed - for Jennifer's murder and two others, that of a 16-year-old in Indiana and a Texas police officer. Lockhart was a monster, a sadist, and Jeremy had years of nightmares, of being scared of empty rooms, of hiding behind his mom and crawling into his parents' bed, terrified.

Jeremy had counseling. But you think that wouldn't be enough, that if one of the Colhouer kids was going to be tormented and go down the wrong path, it would be him, after seeing what he did. But it wasn't.

The nightmare made Jeremy a fierce protector. He became a Pasco County sheriff's deputy right after high school, so he could protect other families, other people's sisters. He is now a corporal in the department. He patrols the same Land O'Lakes neighborhood where he grew up, where Jennifer was killed. He lives with his parents a few miles from their old home.

It turned out to be Megan who lost her way. Megan, who was only 3 when her "Sissy" died. Megan, whose big brother could protect her from anything, except herself.

- - -

The murder of Jennifer Colhouer was one of the most heinous crimes in Pasco County history. The whisper of it still gives people chills, nearly 20 years later.

Jennifer was a freshman at Land O'Lakes High School. She was 14. Jennifer had gotten her braces off the week before - just in time for a Sadie Hawkins dance she never attended. She and her parents and siblings lived in the dream home they built, two stories, sky blue, in Lake Padgett Estates. Jennifer, Jeremy and Megan splashed in the lake behind their home and fished and fed the ducks. They were so normal.

On the late afternoon of Jan. 20, a young drifter with a stolen red Corvette caught Jennifer home alone after school. Lockhart got inside the house and took an 11-inch stainless steel knife from the Colhouers' kitchen. Lockhart chased Jennifer upstairs to her brother's room and there, near Jeremy's Christmas presents, he raped and strangled her. And then he disemboweled her and left.

Jeremy found her.

The family never stayed another night in that house.

- - -

Megan was first arrested when she was 12 years old, an a larceny charge. In Times stories after the murder, Megan's parents said that she called Jennifer "Sissy" and that she, at 3 years old, continued to talk with her. They said Megan was certain that she would die at 14, just like Jennifer. So Megan was reckless. She got into cars with strangers. She bungee-jumped. She lied about where she was.

"It was all tied in to Jennifer," said her mother, Cheryl Colhouer, in a Times story in 1997, days after Lockhart's execution. "She was convinced nothing would happen to her until she turned 14."

Through the years, Megan was arrested on charges of battery and several times on charges of theft.

In 2004, Megan married Richard Ohnmacht - a man with his own lengthy criminal history of larceny, battery, cocaine possession, domestic violence, fleeing police, burglary and kidnapping. In 1996, Richard's mother, Rebecca Ohnmacht, shot his father, Richard, in the gut. She said that he was trying to kill them.

Megan had three children, though it is not known if her husband was the father of all of them. Megan's parents have custody of the children.

They have thus far declined to talk about their youngest daughter.

- - -

Nearly a year ago, Megan moved to a mobile home at the Riverboat Nudist Club in Land O'Lakes. Neighbors say she came there alone and pregnant. They say they haven't seen Richard, so maybe the two were estranged.

Megan, 23, had the baby, who was then given to her parents. Megan's mother visited regularly, to take her to the coin laundry and help her out. Neighbors also say that Megan visited her children often. On Saturday, she spent the day with them and cooked them dinner. She had been talking for days about how excited she was and she came home very happy.

She had been drinking heavily Tuesday night, said a friend, Dave Coleman. He said another friend helped Megan to bed and that she dropped a cigarette on the floor, which began to burn. But the friend picked it up, put it out and said goodbye.

About 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, the Dutchmen trailer was engulfed by fire. Residents tried to get Megan and her pregnant Chihuahua, Prissy, out, but the flames were too intense.

They both died.

And now the Colhouers have lost two of their children.

Times researcher Angie Holan contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

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