The search continues for a teenage girl who authorities say was abducted, along with a 12-year-old girl, by a convicted sex offender who committed suicide.
The 12-year-old girl was able to escape and notify police shortly after the abduction Monday afternoon in Dayton. The other girl, 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard, has not been located despite a massive search effort involving hundreds of volunteers.
Bill Kietzman is with the Iowa DCI. “Our plan is we’re going to find her alive,” Kietzman said late Tuesday afternoon. “That’s our hope. We’re working very hard to find her and we’re still searching many areas. That’s our plan, at this point, to find her alive. But, as time goes on…of course, that’s usually not a good thing.”
The man accused of abducting the girls, 42-year-old Michael Klunder, was found dead from a self-inflicted injury Monday night northeast of Dayton. Klunder was convicted in 1992 for a pair of kidnapping cases that happened a day apart. Police said Klunder, who was 20-years-old at the time, kidnapped and assaulted a woman in Mason City. The next day, he abducted two 3-year-old girls from a home in Charles City. The toddlers were found alive in a trash bin near Northwood, nearly 50 miles away. Klunder agreed to a plea bargain that resulted in a prison sentence of 41 years.
Iowa Department of Corrections spokesperson Fred Scaletta says Klunder served nearly 19 years before being released in February 2011 under the state’s “earned time” law. “The earned time law basically says, for every day you’re (in prison), 1.2 days comes off the end of the sentence and they eventually meet. That was the day they met, February 25, 2011,” Scaletta said.
The plea deal back in 1992 resulted in Klunder being convicted of third-degree kidnapping charges and willful injury. Had Klunder been convicted of first-degree kidnapping, he would’ve faced a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Geoff Greenwood, spokesperson for the Iowa Attorney General’s office, told Radio Iowa the prosecutor in the case retired several years ago. He believes the plea deal was sought because the injuries may not have been severe enough to reach the legal threshold for first-degree kidnapping.
Meanwhile, the roughly 1,000 residents of Dayton are pulling together and searching ditches, wooded areas, and buildings in hopes of finding Kathlynn Shepard alive.
Resident Kendra Breitsprecher is the editor of an online newspaper in Dayton. She recalls getting home at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday. “We got home, my daughter was sleeping on the couch and my son was sleeping in my bed, and I just started crying,” Breitsprecher said. “Because it could have happened to anyone. Because it isn’t supposed to happen here. It isn’t supposed to happen, period. But it definitely isn’t supposed to happen here.”
This case comes just a year and half after the kidnapping and murder of two cousins in Evansdale in northeast Iowa. No one has been arrested in that case. Authorities in Black Hawk County say they are looking at the Webster County case to see if Klunder could’ve been responsible for the deaths of 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year-old Lyric Cook-Morrissey.
The following information is part of a press release from the Iowa Department of Public Safety:
If you have any information related to the disappearance of Kathlynn Shepard or may have come in contact with Michael Klunder between 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM on Monday, May 20, 2013, please contact law enforcement immediately at 515-573-1410. In particular, residents in and around the area where Boone, Webster and Hamilton counties meet, are asked to keep an eye out for the missing girl.
Kathlynn is 5’6″ and 160 pounds. She has blond hair and blue eyes, as well as braces. She was last seen wearing jeans, a grey hooded sweatshirt and a Minnesota Vikings baseball cap.
Additional volunteers are not needed at this time, however, they may be needed in the near future. If you would like to contribute to the search for Kathlynn, please call Webster County Emergency Management at 515-571-6483. Please leave a message for search coordinators indicating your name and contact number, as well as any resources you may be able to provide.