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Balloon release held in honor of Bell County murder victim

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Posted at 2:05 PM, Sep 17, 2018
and last updated 2019-01-01 14:50:05-05

A balloon release is set to be held on Tuesday for a man who was murdered in Bell County in October.

30-year-old Michael VanLandingham's father Wayne Rourke is set to have a balloon release for his son. It will be held at the Refuge-Ministries Copperas Cove campus at 2602 South FM 116. The balloon release is set to happen at 4 p.m. 

One person had been arrested in connection to the badly burned body found in rural Bell County last week. Bell County Sheriff said they are looking for one other suspect, who was arrested shortly after the department's press conference. 

Dana Francis Walcott is currently in custody. His suggested bond has been set at $1 million.

The second suspect, Owen Thomas Free III, also known as Tommy Knocker, was arrested just after 3 p.m. in the Killeen area. 

The body was found when the Belton Fire Department responded to a fire on a private property in the 1600 block of Farm-to-Market 1670 for a brush fire early Sept. 17. The sheriff's office said the area has been known as a drug hangout for years.

After putting out the fire and leaving the scene, the fire department was called back to the area where a badly burned body was found. They knew "the compound" to refer to a section of rural land of about 20 acres where several buildings and trailers were located. 

On Sept. 18, the Bell County Sheriff's Department said that the body belonged to a man and had two gunshot wounds to the head. He has been identified as 30-year-old Michael VanLandingham. 

At the compound, deputies spoke to a resident of one of the trailers. He advised that earlier in the day three men had come to his trailer. He knew one of the men as "Tommy." The others were identified as "Mike" and "Dana," and they asked for the witnesses' help.

The witness said he heard a gunshot and then left his trailer and walked to the back of the property where he observed a human body in the burn pit. He said, "Tommy" told him that they brought "Mike" from a local hotel to the compound to kill him and they did so because they suspected that he was cooperating with the police.

The witness was shown a photographic lineup and positively identified Tommy as Owen Free III and Dana as Dana Francis Walcott Jr. He was unable to identify "Mike."

The witness advised deputies of the local hotel the three men came from, and surveillance video shows that Free and Walcott were escorting a man from a room who appeared to have his hands restrained.

The records of the hotel and a vehicle associated with the room indicated that the occupant was Michael Vanlandingham.

Major T.J. Cruz said the body was burned beyond recognition and had to be identified through dental records.

The relationship between VanLandingham and the suspects is unknown.

This is an active investigation.

A funeral for Vanlandingham will be on Oct. 11 at Crawfords Bower Funeral Home in Copperas Cove at 10 a.m. followed by a graveside service at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. Anyone who would like to pay their respects can attend.

If you would like to help the family with funeral expenses, you can donate to their online fundraiser.

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