Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grandmother Dies in Kidnap Attempt

Cassidy and Sharrel Blankenbaker

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Sharrel Blankenbaker Saves Granddaughter
by Robert A. Waters

On the outskirts of Amarillo, Texas, a sad, violent scene played itself out on the evening of August 3, 2010. It happened in nano-second time, almost before the victims could react. Yet, in the midst of chaos and terror, a heroine emerged. But the alleged killer’s motives posed troubling questions.

At around 8:45 p.m., Sharrel Blankenbaker pulled into Love’s Country Store near I-40 in Amarillo. The sixty-two-year-old had three grandchildren in tow and they needed a bathroom break. While inside, twelve-year-old Cassidy Blankenbaker noticed a heavy-set man with a black cowboy hat smiling at her. He seemed kind of creepy. “I just got this weird feeling around him,” Cassidy said later. “It just felt odd. He was right next to us in the convenience store.”

It had been a busy day for the family. Sharrel had left her home in Felt, Oklahoma at around noon and had driven two hours to Amarillo. At three-thirty, she picked up two of her grandchildren, Cassidy, and her brother Dylan, 16, from the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport. The siblings had flown in from Dan Diego for their annual two-week summer visit to grandma’s farm. Sharrel had brought along another grandchild, five-year-old Justin Blankenbaker. After leaving the airport, the family did some shopping, had dinner at a restaurant, and decided to head back to Felt.

After purchasing soft drinks at Love’s, Sharrel and her grandchildren walked out the front door. The black-hatted stranger, later identified as Gary Don Carner, 58, was waiting for them. He’d parked his white four-door pickup truck in the handicapped parking space directly in front of the door.

As Cassidy walked out, Carner grabbed her wrist and began trying to pull her toward the truck. “He jumped out of the car with a gun and pointed it at me,” Cassidy said. “[He] said, ‘Get in my truck or I’ll shoot.’ And he grabbed my arm and started pulling me. I kept saying, ‘No, I’m not going to get in your truck. Leave me alone. Get away from me.’”

As soon as the struggle began, Dylan grabbed Justin and pulled him back into the store.

Without hesitation, Sharrel placed herself between Cassidy and the gunman. “My Grandma tried to pull [Carner] off me,” Cassidy said. “‘Get off her’ [she said]. He was pointing the gun at me and then he shot her. I just kept hearing my Grandma screaming, ‘He shot me. He shot me. Somebody help me.’”

Sharrel fell to the ground but the distraction caused Carner to loosen his grip on Cassidy and she was able to wrench free. She ran behind the pickup truck. Carner came after her, his gun still in his hand. Cassidy stayed behind the truck, keeping it between herself and her assailant. Suddenly, Dylan opened the door of the store, grabbed Cassidy’s hand, and pulled her inside.

Cassidy, Dylan, and Justin ducked behind the counter. As the frightened girl grabbed her cell phone to dial 911, Carner jumped back into his truck and sped away.

On the asphalt outside the store, Sharrel’s life was draining away. She’d been shot through the lungs, and her breath came ragged and hard. A bystander went to her aid. The Texas Globe News reported that “Angel Quezada, who witnessed the shooting and the struggle that led up to it, held Blankenbaker's hand and prayed for her as she lost consciousness. He said the woman's last words were about her grandchildren and protecting them from harm.”

Within thirty minutes, Carner was also dead. After leaving the convenience store, he encountered two eleven-year-old girls walking toward their homes. Investigators said he kidnapped one of the girls at gunpoint. Shortly after abducting her, Potter County Deputy Steve White spied Carner's truck at the corner of Jim Line Road and Blessen Road. As the deputy approached in his police cruiser, the kidnapped girl leaped out of the passenger door and landed in a ditch. A police report stated that Carner “attempted to flee, shots were fired and the deputy returned fire. The suspect was struck and did die at the scene. The girl suffered scrapes and abrasions from the fall and was taken to a local hospital. She was treated and released.”

Who was Gary Don Carner?

Unlike so many suspects in these kinds of cases, he’d never been charged with a violent crime. He lived in a comfortable home and had a loving family. Carner had been arrested twice: once for a DUI and once for writing a bad check. However, he seemed an unusual suspect for such a violent rampage. (In addition to the crimes mentioned above, police allege that he attempted to abduct a woman outside another convenience store just before his attack on Cassidy Blankenbaker.)

Potter-Randall Special Crimes Sgt. Kevin Dockery spoke to reporters about Carner. “I’m not sure what he was thinking and what was going on,” he said. “We don’t know. The family I don’t think has a clue either. I don’t know if we’re ever going to really know.”

At another press conference, Dockery said, “I just got done visiting with his family. They have no idea why [Carner] did what he did. There’s no history of things like this. His family is shocked, too.”

Who was Sharrel Blankenbaker?

According to newspaper reports, Sharrel was a farm girl from Oklahoma. “She loved her garden,” her son Justin said. “[She and her husband Dale] produced all their own fruits and vegetables. They canned. They survive off that. They put it all up and eat off that all winter.”

Sharrel and Dale had three sons and eight grandchildren.

At her funeral, Cassidy spoke to the audience: “She was the kind of woman I think everyone should be. She would be there for you no matter what.”

Sharrel Blankenbaker proved that in her last dying act.

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