The children of an elderly man from Pulaski County who was beaten and robbed in his home are relieved that six suspects are behind bars. It should also be a relief for many others.
Robert Willhite's son and daughter attended a news conference with the Pulaski County sheriff on Wednesday morning, and they expressed their gratitude for investigators' hard work to bring in those responsible for injuring their dad.
Linda Willhite and her brother, Bob Willhite, say their 82-year-old father may use a wheelchair, but he's a fighter.
"We're just real proud of him for hanging tough through this episode. He'll survive; he's a survivor," Bob said.
"He recognizes us, which is good, and he's talking a little bit," says Linda.
They say their father's face and arms are badly bruised, but they figure the bruises on his hands are likely from trying to fight off his attackers.
"Knowing our father, that does not surprise us at all," Linda said.
Six people who investigators believe were at Robert Willhite's home during the robbery and beating are now in custody. Roby Sapere, 57, is charged with assault and burglary. Thomas York, 34, is charged with assault, burglary, felonious restraint, and firearms charges. Jessica Berry, 23, is charged with receiving stolen property. Melissa Winkle, 34, is charged with possessing burglary tools.
Vernon Dale Parker Jr. is not yet charged in the case, but investigators tracked him all the way to Fulton and say he was sent to the Department of Corrections for being a parole absconder. Shawn Green is called a "lookout" in court documents, but is not yet charged.
"It completely nauseated and infuriated a lot of people, so our community has been great, stepping up to the plate, making phone calls, and I can't tell you how many tips that we've had," said Sheriff Ron Long.
"We were able to tell him the great work that this team has done and give him some relief, knowing that he is now safe, and that's important to us," Linda said.
Investigators believe those suspected in this crime and others arrested in the course of the investigation are part of a crime ring.
"Our investigation has revealed that they are hitting other counties too, such as Camden County, Miller County, along with ours, and probably others within the peripheral. Criminals have no boundaries," said Long.
Officers say they won't stop pursuing those who harm innocent people like Willhite.
"They take something like this personal, and they are not going to allow this to occur in their community," Long said.
"He's tough. And he loves it here. This is his community, and he would thank everybody here for their support," said Linda.
The Pulaski County prosecuting attorney says additional charges will likely be filed against some of the suspects already charged, and more people will be charged in the coming days.