LAKE OCONEE, Ga. — Nearly 100 people came together in central Georgia on Saturday to remember a couple at the center of a grisly murder and missing persons investigation.
Last Tuesday, neighbors discovered the decapitated body of 88-year-old Russell Dermond in the garage of the couple's upscale home in the Great Waters community of Reynolds Plantation. His wife Shirley, 87, was gone. Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills initially believed she was kidnapped since her keys, purse and cars were still at the home.
The sheriff said the crime happened sometime between May 2 and May 4. Great Waters has a guarded entrance and 24 hour security. There is speculation that someone could have entered the property by boat since the home is on Lake Oconee. The investigation has yielded few clues and has perplexed both investigators and the public.
At Saturday night's vigil at Lake Oconee Village Pond, a handful of clergy members took turns speaking, reading Scripture and leading singing as everyone lit candles as the sun set.
The vigil was organized by the Dermonds' church, Lake Oconee Community Church in Greensboro, Ga.
"We realize we're not at the end of this, but we felt like we needed to do something in the middle of it just to give a positive word, and to give a word of hope and light," said Founding Pastor David Key.
"It is hard to make sense of the senseless," said Becky Matheny, who attended the vigil.
Jude and Joe Martincic were good friends of the Dermonds. They said they are still trying to process what happened.
"It's absolutely surreal. It just seems like something out of a TV show. You don't think it would be something that would happen in real life to people you know," said Jude Martincic.
"Russell was such a great guy. Always walking everywhere. I saw him everyday out there. It's not the way he should have died," said Joe Martincic.
Sills, who also attended the vigil, acknowledged his investigators have few leads.
"This is the most difficult case I've ever handled," said Sills.
He asked for the public's help in quelling rumors and to keep the focus on what he believes is the first priority — finding Shirley Dermond.
"We still need help. We need to get that call," Sills said referring to the hope that someone will provide a break in the case.
The Dermonds' three grown children, who live in North Carolina and Florida, did not attend the vigil. They were in Georgia last week and were said to be cooperating with Sheriff's investigators. The couple's children confirmed that nothing was stolen from the home and that there was no sign of forced entry or a struggle.
Sills said the children returned to their homes as the search continues to find their mother and catch the person or persons who murdered their father.
Contributing: Rachel Smith, WMAZ-TV, Macon, Ga.