Friday, November 05, 1999

Rash of violence shakes up Ohio town

Three family members found dead Wednesday

The Associated Press

        SIDNEY, Ohio — The second multiple slaying since the summer has given residents in this western Ohio city the jitters.

        Three family members were found fatally shot Wednesday, just a few months after three teen-age girls and a Bible study teacher were slain.

        “The town used to be safe, and now I don't feel like it's safe anymore,” Violet Harris said Thursday as she used a leaf blower in her front yard.

        Ms. Harris, 42, said she can make no sense of the rash of violence in the city of 19,000 people 40 miles north of Dayton.

        “I don't understand why,” she said.

        The latest shooting occurred inside an apartment at Jackson Towers, a five-story, brick retirement complex a few blocks from downtown.

        Sidney Police Chief Steven Wearly said Jackie Stewart, 59, apparently shot his mother, Helen Helmandollar, 79, and his stepfather, Rodney Helmandollar, 87, before turning the gun on himself. Based on sounds heard by residents, the shootings may have occurred Tuesday night, Chief Wearly said.

        It appeared all three victims were shot once. A large-caliber revolver was recovered next to Mr. Stewart's body, Chief Wearly said.

        “I really feel for the people in Jackson Towers,” he said. “They, until yesterday, felt they lived in a very safe environment.”

        Police have turned up no motive for the shootings. Chief Wearly said Mr. Stewart had been in Sidney only for about three weeks and had apparently lived previously in Oelwein, Iowa. He said police have found no criminal record for Mr. Stewart.

        “There are some things in his background that we are concerned about and are looking into it now,” said Chief Wearly, declining to elaborate.

        On Thursday, police searched a garage at a home in Sidney where Mr. Stewart apparently had some items stored, Sgt. William Balling said.

        The bomb squad detonated one of the items, Sgt. Balling said, adding that he did not know what the item was.

        Chief Wearly called the latest violence “another in a string of tragedies.”

        Lawrence Michael Hensley, 30, is accused of killing three teen-age girls at his home, then gunning down his Bible study teacher 5 miles away on July 8.

        “But we do not make anything of it other than it's an abnormality, a gross abnormality for us,” Chief Wearly said.

        Doug Clayton, who was walking his young daughter on the sidewalk, said there have been too many killings in such a short period of time.

        “I don't think I feel scared. I feel bad. I wish things like that wouldn't happen,” said Mr. Clayton, 39.

        He said older residents and people who live alone are more concerned.

        “They're scared,” he said.

        Raking leaves in her front yard, Lorraine Griffith said she has been in Sidney for 30 years and finds it a nice place to live.

        “I think everybody should be concerned,” said Ms. Griffith. “I'm not afraid, but I'm cautious.”


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