Investigators call girl’s death ‘horrendous’

Published 8:31 pm Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Shelby County man faces charges of killing an 11-year-old girl Monday night in Inverness.

Ryan Gerald Russell, 35, has been charged with capital murder in the death of Katherine Helen Gillespie.

The girl lived with Russell, a distant relative, at 5048 Kerry Downs Road.

Sheriff’s deputies responded to a 911 call Monday night about an unresponsive person at the home.

When they got there, they found the girl dead and later found Russell unconscious, but alive, in a locked bathroom.

Russell remains at Shelby Baptist Medical Center, where he is being treated. He will be taken to the Shelby County Jail upon release from the hospital.

The sheriff’s office won’t say how Gillespie died or what medical treatment Russell is receiving.

“This is one of the most tragic cases I’ve ever been involved in,” said Capt. Ken Burchfield.

District Attorney Robby Owens called the crime “horrendous, atrocious and cruel” during a press conference Wednesday.

Owens said capital murder charges are being brought against Russell because Gillespie was under 12 and that more charges are likely.

“I think there will be more charges levied against this individual,” Owens said.

Chief Deputy John Samaniego said family members told him that Russell was the girl’s legal guardian. He said Gillespie’s next-of-kin was her grandmother, who lives in Boaz. The girl’s mother is deceased.

Samaniego stressed the case is still under investigation and that results from many forensic tests are still pending.

Russell was involved in a hit-and-run car accident Monday evening in Hoover; however, Samaniego said the two cases aren’t connected. Russell also has had some DUIs and other traffic charges, Samaniego said.

Gillespie had just finished the fifth-grade at Oak Mountain Intermediate School.

School system spokeswoman Cindy Warner described her as a “high-achieving” student.

“She was very bright, in the gifted program,” said Warner. “By all indications, she seemed to be a wonderful little girl.”

Warner said counselors would be at the school Thursday to help Gillespie’s classmates cope with her death. Emails were sent to parents inviting students in her homeroom to the counseling session.

“Anytime you lose a student it’s difficult to deal with. This type of incident makes it even harder,” said Warner. “It’s been quite a shock.”

Funeral services for Gillespie will be Friday, June 20 at Boaz Carr Funeral Home in Marshall County. She is survived by her grandmother and many aunts, uncles and cousins