Residents of Eureka say they are thankful manhunt is over

10/18/2013 9:45 AM

10/18/2013 9:45 AM

They didn’t know where he was or who he’d hurt next.

So they looked over their shoulders, glanced down alleys, passed abandoned structures warily, locked their doors at night and fed on rumors.

Life here went on that way for two weeks, until Wednesday night, when Kevin Welsh was shot and killed by KBI agents in a shed a few blocks west of Main Street after an extensive manhunt.

Many in Eureka knew Welsh. Jerry Provence got in a couple of fights with him in high school. Provence said Welsh didn’t like that he had come to town from the big city, Wichita.

Provence said he knew Welsh had a short temper and worried about where he’d pop up next. From his home a block away, he heard the shots that killed Welsh.

“We knew he was dead. You could tell from the gunfire, ” Provence said. “You heard two gunshots, then you heard rapid gunfire. It happened real fast. Then about 10 minutes later you heard a siren.”

“It’s sad, the whole thing. It’s sad that it had to happen in a shoot-out,” Provence said. “But I figure that was the only way he was going to get got.”

Welsh, 35, had disappeared after becoming a suspect in the Oct. 2 fatal shooting of a Eureka couple and the wounding of their 26-year-old daughter.

KBI agents investigated the shed, near 8th and Poplar, after a passing law enforcement officer noticed the entrance to the unoccupied structure had been altered, KBI spokesman Kyle Smith said in a statement. The owner of the building gave permission for the agents to search the building.

Agents encountered Welsh inside. He pointed a handgun at them, and they responded by shooting him, Smith said. The agents provided first aid, then took Welsh to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday.

The shooting was in the same area where law enforcement surrounded an abandoned Laundromat earlier this week in their search for Welsh.

Provence and his wife and four children live across the street from the Laundromat. They had been taken from their home in an armored truck before officers stormed the structure that night.

Provence heard that officers found food wrappers and other indications that Welsh had been hiding there. Thursday morning, he was still shaking his head that Welsh had been so close.

“We were scared he was going to get cornered and try to run into our house,” Provence said. “’Cause around here you don’t really lock your doors at night. Except for the past week.”

Looking down the road from his house toward the shed where Welsh was shot, Provence said, “He sure didn’t make it very far.”

‘It happened pretty fast’

John Dunn Sr. was lying in bed watching TV at his home a block away Wednesday night when he heard multiple shots.

“I jumped up, looked out back and saw two guys with flashlights milling around and a man on the ground,” Dunn said Thursday morning.

Dunn said 10 or 15 shots were fired in a matter of seconds.

“It happened pretty fast,” he added.

Smith said a thorough investigation of the incident is being conducted in accordance with KBI policy. That will include investigating the crime scene, performing an autopsy on Welsh and interviewing witnesses. Greenwood County Attorney Joe Lee will appoint a special prosecutor to review the investigation. After it is completed, additional information will be released, Smith said.

As word spread that the manhunt had ended, Dunn said, relief spread across Eureka, a town of about 2,600 people 60 miles east of Wichita.

“People were getting paranoid,” he said. “Every time someone saw a person, they thought it was him. I was surprised he was back here behind us.”

“I’m thankful it’s over,” said Tereasa Wilson, who lives near the site where Welsh was found. “I’ve not had a full night’s sleep since last week.”

‘People were on edge’

J.D. Anderson, owner of Espresso Creations on Main Street, said not knowing where Welsh was for so long was hard on residents. They suspected he was around, but nobody knew where.

“There was an ongoing stress and anxiety about where he might pop up,” Anderson said. “The rumors were that he had a list of people he wanted to kill, and he wasn’t done. People were on edge.”

“It’s going to be awhile before things really get back to normal in people’s lives,” said Larry Moore, pastor at Eureka Community Church. “Small town, everybody knows everybody and everybody’s nervous, and nobody really had a handle on what was going on. At least now, not everybody’s walking around looking over their shoulder.”

The trauma isn’t over for everybody in town, said Debbie Reaves, a crisis counselor for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Eureka. The shootings bothered some of her former clients.

“It brought all that back again,” Reaves said. “It affects so many people. People don’t realize that.”

Welsh was wanted in connection with the shooting deaths of Keith Kalen Kriesel, 54, and his wife, Sheila, 52, at the couple’s rural Eureka home two weeks ago. Sheila Kriesel’s daughter, 26-year-old Catherine Scheff, was also shot but survived and is recovering in a Wichita hospital. Law enforcement has said Welsh had ties to the family.

Before the shootings, Welsh was out on $50,000 bond in connection with kidnapping, aggravated assault and criminal threat charges stemming from an Aug. 23 incident. He was due back in Greenwood County District Court on Oct. 29.

Last week Gov. Sam Brownback offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to Welsh’s capture. Earlier this week, private residents and businesses contributed an additional $6,000, increasing the reward to $11,000 total. His name also recently appeared on the KBI’s Most Wanted list.

Funeral services for the Kriesels were held Saturday in Eureka. Both were Air Force veterans and had worked for Greenwood County agencies.

Contributing: Rick Plumlee, Stan Finger and Amy Renee Leiker of The Eagle

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