Hundreds at funerals for 2 victims of US killings

GAFFNEY, South Carolina (AP) – Hundreds of mourners thronged Sunday’s funeral services for an elderly mother and her daughter, two of five victims of a suspected serial killer whose crime spree has terrorized this rural South Carolina community for more than a week.

Rites were held at First Baptist Church in Gaffney for 50-year-old Gena Linder Parker and her 83-year-old mother, Hazel Linder, station WSPA-TV said. Law enforcement officers provided security for the family and mourners.

The killings began a week ago Saturday when the wife of 63-year-old peach farmer Kline Cash found her husband shot dead in their rural home. Then on Wednesday, relatives discovered the bodies of Linder and Parker, both bound and shot to death in a separate attack at Linder’s home.

On Thursday, Stephen Tyler and his 15-year-old daughter Abby were shot as they were closing the Tyler Home Center near downtown Gaffney. He died Thursday, while Abby Tyler fought for her life for two days before dying Saturday at a hospital.

The Herald-Journal of Spartanburg reported that the Tylers’ minister at Cherokee Avenue Baptist Church, Clyde Thomas, urged congregants to keep the faith in the face of tragedy. The newspaper said he had a pistol in his office Saturday.

“As Christians, we don’t live by explanations. We live by promises. We live by faith, not sight,” Thomas said.

Thomas also said he originally planned to deliver a sermon titled “Happy Birthday, America” for the Fourth of July service. But instead of upbeat patriotic music, Sunday’s program was changed to add hymns reflecting a time of mourning.

The killings alarmed many residents who canceled Independence Day holiday plans, and some talked of arming themselves.

“The irony is that the freedoms we have, we’re locked behind closed doors with firearms,” Thomas said. “We should be celebrating freedom, but we find ourselves very much restrained by fear.”

Cherokee County Sheriff Bill Blanton has said investigators believe the killings are linked and the search is on for a suspected male serial killer.

Blanton said all the victims were shot, but he would not say how the deaths were linked. The shootings all occurred within about 10 miles (16 kilometers) of each other in Cherokee County, a community of 54,000 people set amid peach orchards and farms some 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of Charlotte, North Carolina.

“We’re knee-deep in the investigation,” Blanton had said.

Investigators have released a sketch of the suspect, saying he is in his 40s, with salt and pepper hair, about 6-foot 2-inch (2.4-meter), and roughly 200 pounds (90 kilograms). They think he is driving a silver 1991-1994 Ford Explorer.

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