Bud Kennedy: Saginaw case took hard work — and help from Opal’s memory

Posted Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Tyler Holder was more dangerous than anyone thought.

Had officers expected gunfire from a 17-year-old described as a misfit and neighborhood troublemaker, I imagine they would have brought a special tactics team to his Saginaw home Tuesday.

Instead, we can be very grateful today for courageous officers who knock on doors without knowing who or what lies behind them, and pray for the recovery of Arlington Detective Charles Lodatto.

Since DNA results came back Saturday, police say, Holder has been the top suspect in the death of Alanna Gallagher, 6.

When they came to his door with a warrant, they said Tuesday, Holder opened it — but had a gun hidden behind his back.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, police had first made note of Holder the day after Alanna’s death, when a neighbor said he had been pacing up and down the sidewalk the previous day.

Another neighbor said a silver or gray tarp had been used to cover wood in the Holders’ back yard, next door to where she had been seen playing that day.

Alanna was found raped, smothered and wrapped in a silver tarp.

On Monday night, that neighbor said, an FBI agent called to double-check about the tarp.

On Tuesday, officers knocked on the Holders’ front door.

Holder’s arrest may ease some of the pain, anger and confusion in Saginaw, where many residents have been reliving the search in 1999 for the abductor of Opal Jennings, 6.

Richard Lee Franks, now 43 and serving a prison sentence until at least 2029, said he took Opal only for a ride.

He was convicted of aggravated kidnapping and sentenced before her body was found in 2003.

For five months in 1999, like this month, like today, neighbors and wagging tongues in Saginaw blamed anybody who looked or acted different.

In both cases, police asked neighbors to be on the lookout for a suspicious pickup, and every construction worker, repairman or stranger driving a truck, particularly minorities, became a target of suspicion.

This time, even Alanna’s parents came under scrutiny for a marriage fitting the description “it’s complicated.”

Wise County Sheriff David Walker recalled Opal’s case. Both Franks and Holder were from Wise County families.

“The longer it goes, the more the rumors get spinning and people get their tongues going,” he said.

“People start running down the family. But good police work takes time.”

One of the detectives investigating Opal’s death was a Tarrant County district attorney’s investigator named Mike Adair.

Two years ago, saying he wanted to improve cooperation in child abduction cases like Opal’s, Adair led the effort to gather 100 officers and form a North Central Texas Major Investigative Team.

With startup money from a $10,000 Justice Department grant, our law enforcement officers now work together more closely than ever.

On Tuesday, working for the investigative team inspired after Opal’s death, Arlington Detective Charles Lodatto went to a Saginaw door.

Bud Kennedy’s column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538 Twitter: @budkennedy

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