TEEN WAS SHOT; MALE FRIEND BEING SOUGHT AS ‘PERSON OF INTEREST’
WHITE CO.—Authorities spent the night and into this morning, Tuesday, August 28, searching for Jacob Wheeler, 22, of Carmi, after his friend and camping companion, Jessica M. Evans, 17, was found in the bed of his pickup covered in tree limbs, dead with at least one gunshot wound to the head.
Wheeler is NOT officially a suspect in the shooting; however, he is a “person of interest” according to authorities.
The two went camping and fishing over the weekend at a privately-owned spot in the Centerville area north of Crossville. They were spotted at McDonald’s in Carmi late Saturday night and appeared to be happy and having a great time. When Jessica’s mom last heard from her daughter, Jessi had just caught a fish shortly after midnight Sunday morning. Jessi was expected back at work at 5 a.m. but didn’t show up. And when she didn’t and they couldn’t be found at the campsite, a search was underway for them both.
Yesterday afternoon, a youngster out on a four-wheeler found the 2003 Dodge pickup Wheeler had been driving, with Evans’ body in the back. The pickup was parked on an embankment at the Little Wabash River north of the Centerville area. This differs from what our official sources told us last night: that a plane had spotted the truck.
Wheeler was nowhere to be found.
Throughout the night, reports dwindled, but reliable information came in that Jessi had been shot; then, that BOTH had been found shot. Ultimately, Wheeler’s wife, Michele Hillier, messaged our Facebook page from her location in Florida. Michele, a Texas girl, was contacted by authorities and told that her husband was being sought.
That piece of information came as a surprise to many in the area, including friends of Jessi’s, who didn’t know that Wheeler was still married. Nevertheless, Hillier assured everyone that that was indeed the case, without going into too much detail.
Wheeler is a veteran, having served three years in the Army, 12 months in Iraq. Our information indicates that it was a tense three years, as his MOS was in a hazardous field, working with bombs and material, and at times defusing them. Still, all his friends in and around Carmi are telling us that he is a sweet boy, even-tempered and considerate, and that the war didn’t do much to affect that aspect of his personality.
There are murmurings that the two, while camping, may have stumbled upon a meth lab, and the people operating it. In the extremely rural area of White County where they were, it’s entirely possible that they may have come upon a sizable operation, in which case there may have been people guarding it. Our sources on the ground in Carmi advise that there are some rather violent characters in the meth trade in their area, and that it’s getting worse. If this is what happened, there may be a sense of urgency in finding Wheeler, as the same fate that befell Evans could have occurred with him too…but being a vet, and trained to fight and evade, he may have struggled—and may still be out there, but possibly injured.
Then there are the rumblings that Wheeler may have “snapped,” and that the “person of interest” designation may soon turn into “suspect.” As it stands right now, ANYTHING is a possibility. Which is why we’re attempting to re-establish contact with our people on the ground and get as much info to you as we can—accurate info, which at times is difficult, as there are so many involved right now.
An autopsy is scheduled today for Evans. Through such a thing, we may be able to learn whether she fought, whether she was violated in any way, how many gunshot wounds and from which direction/what distance…but we say “may” because authorities are understandably tight-lipped about this. IF we’re able to find out anything, we’ll bring it to you. Please be patient with the site; it was absolutely overwhelmed last night and only those with the fastest internet connections could get on. Chris will be looking at bumping things up today to try to accommodate the loads, which get larger with every issue like this. We thank you profusely for your interest and support, and thank our people in the field who were doing their damnedest last night to get us information without being discovered doing go…we couldn’t do this without you all, and we appreciate every last one of you, readers and sources alike.
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