SYRACUSE — The tragic deaths of two Syracuse teens and a young Syracuse woman, 31 years apart, brought a sister and a mother of the victims together to continue keeping their loved ones memories alive.
The first of what is hoped to be many donations was presented to the Turkey Creek Fire Territory Wednesday, Nov. 6, by Wendy Hampton, sister of Mindy Young, killed in 1984, and Rhonda Bickel, mother of Josh Knisley, killed in 2015. A check for $562 was presented for the department to utilize to help youth fulfill their dreams, “which our Mindy, Josh and Tara (Thornburg) never had the opportunity to do. Our youth have so many challenges in today’s world — we are looking into ways to help them keep on the right track, encourage them and help them to succeed,” said Bickel.
Hampton noted they will be looking at ways to give back to the community, which has been supportive to both families. “We have been truly blessed by the wonderful community that we live in,” both women stated.
The women noted they are not familiar with what all it takes to become a firefighter or paramedic and will be working with the schools, fire territory and emergency personnel in search of ways to help local kids and the community. “We want to recognize the service and sacrifice our firefighters and EMTs make every day.” the women said.
Bickel noted her son had just completed firefighter training through a school program and had hoped to be a firefighter or EMT someday.
Hampton and Bickel are hoping the money they raise each year can be used for possible scholarships, supporting outreach programs and provide EMS and fire career opportunities.
“Our goal is to keep Mindy’s, Josh’s and Tara’s memories alive, while at the same time giving back to the youth in our community, our first responders and our wonderful community,” they said.
Both family members plan to continue with fundraisers to make a donation each year to the department.
The first donation is the result of money collected by Young’s classmates to replace a tree and plaque planted in her memory that had become lost. The class of 1986 donated enough money to not only purchase a new tree and plaque, but have funds left over, which classmates agreed should be donated back to the community.
A lilac tree and new plaque have been placed and planted by the playground at the North Webster Community Center. A bench has also been donated by a couple to be placed in the park at the community center by Charlie Harris and his wife, Tami Grawcock-Harris.
The original tree was planted at the North Webster Elementary School, but over the years and with renovations, the tree and plaque could not be located, nor could it be found what happened.
“We lost Mindy, Josh and Tara in horrific ways,” said Bickel. “They were kind, loving and had big hearts and beautiful souls and always wanted to help others.”
In addition to future fundraisers, blue ribbons on lamp posts throughout the Syracuse will continue to be placed in the middle of February on the “heaven” anniversary date of Knisley’s and Thornburg’s deaths, hoping everyone will remember them. “Remember their electrifying smiles, kind hearts and beautiful souls,” said Bickel.
Melinda “Mindy” Young was 16 years old and a sophomore at Wawasee High School when she was shot and killed during the early morning hours of March 25, 1984. She had been shot four times and then thrown into Webster Lake.
Her assailant, Curtis Eugene Ohlwine, North Webster, who was 19 at the time, was sentenced Nov. 13, 1984, to 40 years at the Indiana Department of Corrections. He was released in November 2005 after serving 21 years. It is believed he is now living in Wabash.
Information released at the time stated Ohlwine saw Young walking in North Webster at approximately 11:45 p.m. He recognized her from a brief meeting at a Syracuse gym two weeks earlier. They discussed meeting at a house, the home of Kenneth Sowers on Second Street in North Webster, a short distance from the Crystal Flash station. Ohlwine had broken into that home earlier. Young had allegedly told him she wanted to make a telephone call and when they parted, he went in another direction. But she reached the home before he did.
Ohlwine stated she surprised him and he fired five shots at the figure he saw in the house with a gun he had taken from the Sower home. He reportedly did not know he was firing at Young. He then took her body from the house and threw her over the seawall and into Webster Lake. Her body was found at 8 p.m. after police received a call that blood had been seen on the floor of the Sowers home when the caller looked through a window. The Sowers were vacationing in California when the burglary and murder took place.
Knisley and Thornburg were murdered Feb. 19, 2015, on East Main Street, Syracuse. Knisley had been been shot while sleeping. Thornburg, who was alive after being shot and able to call police and identify her killer, died from her injuries a day later.
Kyle DeHart was sentenced to 110 years on two counts of murder and Brandon Woody was sentenced to 120 years for both murders. Thomas Hursey was sentenced to 27 ½ years on two counts of aiding, inducing or causing robbery with serious bodily injury. DeHart’s possible release date is July 2098 is at the Indiana State Prison, Michigan City. Woody’s possible release date is March 2112 is at the New Castle Correctional Annex, New Castle; and Hursey, whose possible release date is March 2030 is at the Correctional Industrial Facility, Pendleton.
The murders took place after the trio went to Thornburg’s home with the intent of stealing marijuana from her. The original plan was for Thornburg to be restrained with tape and her throat slit with a knife. However the plans were allegedly altered at the last minute. When Thornburg asked for the money, Woody allegedly hit her in the face and then shot her in the face. Knisley was then shot.