Murder assaults small town's values, sense of security

(From the Hardin County News - Wednesday, May 17, 2001)

SILSBEE - A community remains in shock after the brutal murder of a convenience store clerk this past Friday.

Although Silsbee police made an arrest just hours after the incident, both residents and merchants are still upset that such a violent crime could happen in Silsbee.

Vickie Swartout, 42, of Lumberton, was shot and killed this past Friday morning, while working at the Chevron Car Wash, located at 1050 N. 5th Street. Slie was the victim of a store robbery.

Authorities said Swartout was working alone at the time of the incident.

"Although I have been involved in law enforcement activities for a long time, the shooting really bothered me because it seems so senseless," Justice of the Peace Robert Ward said. "I have known Vickie for several years and slie was good to everybody
that came into the store. She would even give children change from her own money if they were only a few cents short of the purchase," Robert said.

"You have to wonder what is happening in our society, for such a needless tragedy to happen."

He said the merchants located around the store have already changed working procedures as a precaution against ottier acts of violence.

His wife, LaurenWard, who operates the pawnshop across the street from the convenience store, said it is very upsetting.

"Violence can happen anywhere, it does not have to be a big city. I was shocked that it happened so close," Lauren said.
She said her business will not put additional security in place, because the Justice of the Peace Office is in the same building and law enforcement officers are constantly in and out of the building.

E.J. Duvail, owner of E J Clocks located near the convenience store, said the shooting is both upsetting and bothersome.

A regular customer of the convenience store, Duvail said he would buy coffee each morning and visit with the clerks.

Haunted by the murder, Duvail said he has asked himself the questions of whether lie could have prevented the shooting if he would have been in the store at the time, or if he would have been another victim.

Swartout had just been transferred to the day shift, after another worker had quit the previous Sunday, Duvail said.

"It is strange how things happen. It is the first time that I have known someone that has been violently murdered," a teary-eyed Duvail said. "The shooting has affected me deeply because although we were just acquaintances, we talked and were friends. I was totally oblivious of what was going on at the time. It is not like the movies, because when I was questioned, I realized how little I was paying attention. I will try to be more observant, but you cannot live in constant fear. I live in Silsbee because I do not want to have to be suspicious of everyone, but what can a person do? I can't stay locked in here."

He said he was impressed with the way police reacted to the shooting, which seemed to ease tension in the community.

Alan Sanford, an employee with Silsbee Motor Company, a business located directly across the street from where the shooting
occurred, said although they are not going to make any radical changes regarding security, they will go out of their way to assure no one is left alone in the store.

"I hate to sec people overreact, because if you are scared of everything, you also become a victim of the crime, and stop acting rationally," Sanford said.

According to police, the store's surveillance camera showed the shooting suspect enter the convenience store and walk directly
into the enclosed cashier area where Swartout was sitting. Video shows the suspect pointing a revolver at the clerk and shooting her once in the left side of the chest.

The suspect then rummaged through the cash register and took $114, police said.

Less than four hours after the shooting, police arrested 20-year-old Jamaal Howard, of Silsbee, in connection with the murder.

Police say they recognized the suspect from the surveillance video. Howard was apprehended less than a mile from the convenience store. Police said he was hiding inside a home next door to his residence.

Silsbee Police Lt. Tommy Bartosh said a gun believed to be the murder weapon was .recovered several hours after the shooting.

Bartosh said the gun was found in a shed. located along the route which police believe the suspect took after the shooting.

"A caller identified the suspect as being seen near the shed the day of the shooting," Bartosh said. "The gun found in the shed had been fired."

At press time, police still had not recovered the stolen money.

Chevron Car Wash Manager Peggy Thomlison said employees will start keeping the door closed to the cashier area, which is contained inside bullet-proof glass. She said Vickie's mother, Joann Swartout, is still in shock from the shooting.

Thomlison has established an account at Community Bank to help the family raise money for burial costs. The account no. is 1902051-57. Funeral services were set to take place Tuesday under the direction of Farmer Funeral Home in Silsbee.

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