Today marks the one year anniversary of the abduction and murder of a north-central Iowa girl. Rich Wagner is the principal of Southeast Webster Grand school, where 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard attended classes. He says students are encouraged to wear purple — which was Kathlynn’s favorite color. A short ceremony is scheduled outside the school at 3 p.m.
“We’re all going out on the football field. Kathlynn’s parents will address the student body and then we’ll release purple balloons,” Wagner says. Kathlynn Shepard and Dezi Hughes were kidnapped shortly after they stepped off a school bus in Dayton on May 19th of last year. The two were lured into a pickup truck driven by registered sex offender Michael Klunder. He took the two girls to a hog confinement facility in rural Boone County.
Hughes escaped, but Shepard ended up missing until her body was found along the Des Moines River on June 7. Klunder, who committed suicide, was found dead the day after the kidnapping. Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs says it’s hard to believe the incident occurred one year ago. “It went by rather fast, although it’s always been on everybody’s mind,” Stubbs said.
Hundreds of volunteers helped police in the search for Kathlynn for more than two-and-a-half weeks. The tragedy brought the community together, according to Stubbs, but also altered many residents’ sense of security. “A lot of people are more aware of their surroundings and a lot more vigilant about where their children are, for what they can do about that…obviously, you can’t be with somebody 24 hours a day,” Stubbs said. “They’re just pay a lot more attention to their surrounding and what’s going on.”
Iowa lawmakers this year approved legislation that was adopted in reaction to Shepard’s death. The measure, signed into law by Governor Branstad in April, gives prison officials authority to keep some sexually violent predators in custody if they committed a violent sex crime as a juvenile. If the legislation had been in effect when Michael Klunder was freed from prison for past crimes, he could have been kept in civil containment instead of being freed.
By Pat Powers, KQWC, Webster City