In Kaufman County, Authorities Hunt for Killers as a Neighborhood Remains in Shock

Police had only just opened Blarney Stone Way in Forney Monday afternoon when this picture was taken. Satellite trucks were already stacked fender to fender for 100 yards or more, and cameramen were trained on the house ringed with yellow police tape, shooting B roll for the evening newscasts.

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There wasn't much to see, of course, in this flat, upper-middle class subdivision of brick homes, swingsets and pools. It looked like the neighborhood, with its young trees, had been dropped here not long after the grazing cattle were hauled off the pasture in a gooseneck trailer. Neighbors driving from their homes squeezed through the chute of news vans and photographers and tripods, but that was about it.

I knocked on Vanessa Hernandez's door. She lives across the street from Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia, and she told me the same thing she'd told Lord-knows-how-many reporters who'd knocked on her door already: That the Friday night before their bodies were found among what WFAA reports were more than a dozen .223-caliber casings, storms were passing through. She didn't hear anything strange.

I watched investigators in straw cowboys hats file in and out of McLelland's home. Little information is coming out of the Kaufman County Sheriff's Office, the lead agency on the case. They've said they don't have any evidence linking the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a violent prison gang, to the murders.

But only two months have passed since McLelland's assistant district attorney Mark Hasse was gunned down in Kaufman's tidy little town square by men wearing masks and tactical vests as he walked to the courthouse. And it wasn't long before that when the Texas Department of Public Safety got word that ABT planned to "inflict mass casualties" in retaliation for the crackdown on its top leadership by federal, state and local authorities.

More than one ABT expert has said such brazen assassinations would be out of character -- that they wouldn't bring that kind of heat down on their ranks. But heat is exactly what these murders have brought. Not just from the authorities, either. All afternoon yesterday, microphone-wielding reporters stepped into the shops across from the courthouse and conducted man-on-the-street interviews along the sidewalk. Photographers angled their way around the square, eyeballing the bland, brick-and-glass courthouse and the memorial to Confederate soldiers. Satellite trucks and news vans -- local and network-- ringed the courthouse. The eyes of the nation are on Kaufman County, and it seems they will be for some time.

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Brantley Hargrove