Father charged in girls' deaths

Jerry Hobbs, 34, could face the death penalty if convicted in the stabbing deaths

Hobbs served time for assaulting girl's mother

By Noble Johns

ZION, Illinois (BNW) —
In the ugly, vile and evil murders of the two little girls, I hate to say I told you so, but I told you that these crazy whites in this country are eating their young, just like some animals in the wild. An ex-convict once arrested for chasing neighbors with a chainsaw has been charged with killing his daughter and one of her playmates in a double slaying that stunned their suburban Chicago community.

Jerry Hobbs, 34, could face the death penalty if convicted in the stabbing deaths of 8-year-old Laura Hobbs and her 9-year-old classmate, Krystal Tobias, Lake County State's Attorney Michael Waller said.

Waller declined to state any motive in the case, saying there was no "rational explanation" for the killings.

"We don't know exactly what it was," he said. "But I think it's safe to say that he wasn't probably celebrating Mother's Day the way the rest of us were."

The girls' bodies were found Monday morning in a wooded park just blocks from the elementary school where they were second-grade classmates. They had been stabbed and beaten to death, Lake County Coroner Richard Keller said.

Zion Mayor Lane Harrison said Hobbs moved to town about a month ago.

"I know the community has to be breathing a collective sigh of relief, because they know someone isn't out there laying in wait for other children," he said.

About 500 people gathered Tuesday night at a junior high school in Zion to hear about the case from Harrison and other city leaders. Pamphlets on helping children cope with death and grief were available on tables in the gymnasium, and School Superintendent Connie Collins got a standing ovation for the leadership she has shown in the wake of the killings.

"This evening, before you go to bed, get down on your knees and pray to God ... that your children are safe," Harrison told those gathered at the school.

Earlier, Collins told reporters the community was "in terrible shock."

"It's very difficult to begin to understand something like this," she said. "It's something that was not expected. In a community like this, we have never had this type of experience."

Zion, population 23,000, is about 40 miles north of Chicago. It had three reported homicides in 2002 and none in 2003, the last year for which police issued an annual report.

Hobbs was released from prison in Texas in April after serving nearly two years for violating probation for an assault charge he had pleaded guilty to in 2002, said Rick Mahler, an assistant district attorney in Wichita Falls, Texas.

The assault charge stemmed from a 2001 altercation with Laura's mother, Sheila Hollabaugh, Mahler said.

"He started chasing people around with a chainsaw that was running," he said. "Somebody hit him with a shovel, knocked him down. Those people held him until the police arrived."

Hobbs was arrested in 2003 after failing to show up for visits with his probation officer and skipping anger management classes. He was sentenced to two years in prison on the probation violation.

He also had served time in county jails on a variety of misdemeanor charges, ranging from assault to possession of marijuana and resisting arrest, Mahler said.

More details could be revealed during a bond hearing scheduled for Wednesday in the Chicago suburb of Waukegan, Waller said. He said police questioned several relatives during the investigation, but the others "didn't pique the officers' interest like he did."

"We believe we have a compelling case against this defendant, and all of that will come out in due course," he said.

Girl 'had a smile for everybody'

Laura's grandmother, Emily Hollabaugh, said her granddaughter was "a typical 8-year-old girl" who "always had a smile for everybody," and Krystal was "just as sweet as Laura was."

Collins said the girls' class had recently touched on the issue of loss.

"Fortunately, in talking with the classroom teacher, she shared with me that the children recently read a couple of books on loss -- 'Charlotte's Web' and 'The Taste of Blackberries,' " Collins said. "The children had an opportunity to discuss feelings and talk about what it meant to lose someone and to share with each other."

The girls were last seen riding bicycles Sunday afternoon. One of the bikes was recovered near the spot where their bodies were found, shortly after 6 a.m. Monday by a man taking a walk in Beulah Park, a spot that neighborhood parents warn children to avoid.

"It's out of sight of many adults who might possibly be around the kids or monitoring them," Collins said. "We try to keep them in the open."

Hollabaugh said the girls were seen playing in the park about 5:30 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

"I know she didn't come home for dinner and we got worried, and her brothers and sisters went out looking for her," Hollabaugh told Chicago television station WLS. "They didn't find her, and then, about 9 o'clock, they called the police."

Zion Police Chief Doug Malcolm said the bodies were found about 100 yards off a bicycle path in a wooded area on the north end of the park.

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