Juanita Whitacre had already gone to bed at her Bristol home shortly after 10 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15, while many in the community were watching a tragedy unfold on TV and the web. An “active shooter” was loose inside the 3900 E. Bristol St. Martin's Super Market in Elkhart.
Whitacre remained asleep as the news trickled out. A gunman had fatally shot two people before police killed him.
“The police came to my house and knocked on my door, it was some time after like 1 o'clock in the morning, with two chaplains,” she said. “They asked me if I was Juanita Whitacre. I said, 'Yes.' They asked me if they could step in. I said, 'yes.' They came in and then they told me ... the news that nobobdy wants to hear.”
The shooter had shot and killed her 20-year-old daughter, Krystle Dikes.
Whitacre spent Thursday surrounded by her friends and loved ones at First Baptist Church on C.R. 17. She had been besieged with media calls all day, some coming from across the country, but sat down at the church with an Elkhart Truth reporter because she wanted the Elkhart community to know some things about her daughter.
Whitacre was clear in conveying her daughter had gone through some rough spots as a teenager, and the two had been estranged at one time, but there also was plenty to admire and love about the young woman, who had recently started trying to get her life on track.
“Krystle loved people,” said Whitacre, a realtor who also works part-time at a Goshen Walgreen's. “She was very outgoing and she was free-spirited and independent. She probably had thousands of friends that are kids, teenagers, and she reached out to kids that had a lot of problems. She was right there wanting to help them, no matter how bad their situation was, especially the kids with the worst problems. She didn't judge people by their cover. She looked deeper.”
That sense of compassion sometimes brought kids into Krystle's life who had a lot of problems. In starting the Martin's job about a month ago, she was trying to find peace and surround herself with more positive people and “less drama,” Whitacre said.
Until about a month ago, Krystle had been living in Muncie and selling guns for her stepbrother, Jahred Gomez, a registered gun dealer. She also enjoyed shooting guns with her father, Shaun Dikes, at his home in Shipshewana, said Shaun's wife, Charlotte Dikes.
“She said she was going to do gun shows,” Whitacre said. “She liked guns.”
But she wanted to return to Elkhart to be near family and find a job.
“She was trying to create a more peaceful existence for herself. She said she enjoyed that about Martin's because she could work at night, didn't have to talk to anybody. She could just put her headphones on, listen to music and stock shelves.”
Whitacre said she and her daughter had been estranged during Krystle's teen years because she didn't want to follow rules. She had dropped out of Elkhart Central High School her senior year and moved out of the house when she was 18. She was smart enough to pass the GED exam without taking a prep class or even studying.
Whitacre said she was taking some solace in knowing that not only was Krystle in a good place emotionally, but the two of them were getting along well. On Wednesday, they had lunch together at the store's Side Door Deli before going apartment hunting for Krystle. She had been staying with a friend and his parents at their home, which is located within walking distance of the store, but she wanted her own place.
Krystle had taken child care at the Elkhart Career Center and was currently babysitting some children with special needs.
“She had talked to me about wanting to start a day care someday. That was kind of a dream of hers. We had talked about her plans to go back to school. We talked about it just yesterday. She wasn't ready yet.”
When she was still living at home, Krystle couldn't stand following her mother's rules, such as being required to attend church. But they had begun to get along once she moved out.
“We were friends. We could talk. She was telling me her problems, things she was going through with her friends, girlfriends, who she's friends with now and who she wasn't. She was confiding everything in me and wanting my advice. She was reaching out. She had so many people who loved her and I had just told her that yesterday.”
Krystle's Facebook page lists several friends who are tattoo artists. Whitacre said she had a large tattoo of wings on her back. She and her sister, Donna Cripe of New Paris, laughed when asked if there were other tattoos.
“Not that I know of,” Whitacre said. “But this is the girl who once had her belly button pierced in the bathroom at school. She just went to the beat of a different drummer.”
Police were declining Thursday to elaborate on whether they believe shooter Shawn Bair knew Krystle or had some motive to kill her first.
“It's sad that anyone would do that, if that's what happened. Whatever happened, it's sad that anybody would take a life but this is the sinful world we live in and this is what we're dealing with while we're here on Earth.”
But Whitacre said she feels sympathy for Bair's family.
“His family's loss is as important as mine,” she said. “There are three people who died and their families have all had a loss.”
Whitacre said she was drawing comfort from her faith, She raised Krystle in the church, and she still had many friends there.
“Krystle is with God now. She is in heaven with Jesus and she is in a better place. I know where my daughter is. I love her and I'll miss her, and those other people are going to miss their loved ones too. Someday we're going to go to a different place and I'll get to see my daughter again. My beautiful, sweet, wonderful daughter that I love. That's what's getting me through.”
As she has watched news coverage of mass shootings over the years, Whitcare said she has never thought it can only happen elsewhere. Any such illusions were shattered in December 2012 when her cousin, Debbie McDowell, 45, was fatally shot by 63-year-old Ervin K. Howard, who dumped her body at the American Countryside Farmers Market before killing himself.
“I always knew that anything can happen at any time. It's not up to us when our lives will end. God knows everything. I believe my cousin Debbie is with the Lord now and I think Krystle is too.”
A close friend of Dikes described her as a “gifted, talented person.”
Natasha Sellers, 22, said Thursday morning she and Dikes had been best friends for the last seven years. Sellers believed Dikes knew Shawn Bair, who has been identified as the gunman. Multiple sources have also confirmed that Dikes and Bair did know each other.
“I did know him. He dated one of my friends in high school. He always seemed like a really nice guy,” Sellers said. “I had heard he had a few drug problems, but I never would have thought of this.”
Sellers and Dikes attended Elkhart Central High School.
“She was always full of energy. She loved Brazilian jujitsu, she loved stick fighting, drawing, painting,” Sellers said. “She loved singing, dancing ... she was vibrant and full of life. But I never anything from her about him.”