The search continues

DAYTON – Two backpacks and a blue shirt believed to belong to the two Dayton girls abducted Monday were found late Tuesday in the 400 block of Kale Avenue in Boone County.

Officials Wednesday focused their search for missing 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard there, and in other areas the girls were known to be with their captor, Michael Klunder.

Shepard’s family thanked everyone involved in the search Wednesday afternoon, but they also asked for privacy.

Webster County Sheriff’s Deputy Amy Stringer read the family’s statement.

“We know that members of the public and media want to talk to us. Please understand, the idea of doing an interview is too overwhelming right now.”

Stringer said the family remained optimistic, and was doing as well as could be expected.

Special Agent Bill Kietzman of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said investigators have information as to why Shepard and an as-yet-unidentified 12-year-old might have gotten into a truck with Klunder Monday afternoon.

Kietzman said that information will be divulged later.

Klunder, 42, was found dead of an apparent suicide Monday. An autopsy on Klunder was to be completed Wednesday, he said.

According to Kietzman, the site from which the 12-year-old escaped – 3023 400th St. in rural Pilot Mound – and the site where Klunder was found dead – 3319 Taylor Ave. in rural Dayton – were hog confinements at which Klunder was employed.

Wednesday night, people gathered for a vigil at Emanual Lutheran Church in Dayton.

The church was so packed that a balcony had to be opened to accommodate everyone.

Those in attendance prayed for Shepard’s safe return, and they prayed for the 12-year-old who escaped, rescuers, law enforcement and volunteers. At the end of the vigil, everyone lit a candle and sang “Amazing Grace.”

“I just felt the need to pray for her to be found safely,” Debbie Rosmanith, of Callender, said. “The vigil gave me a sense of peace and comfort, and allowed the community to pray as one.”

Her friend, Beth Shultz, of Gowrie, agreed.

“I thought it was perfect,” Shultz said. “It gave us hope. I’ve had hope the whole time.”

Terry Hanson, of Fort Dodge, attended because of her profession, she said.

“I’m a child advocate and I love kids,” Hanson said. “It just grieves my heart not knowing where she is.”

Kietzman said the girls were abducted from near the corner of First Avenue Southwest and Seventh Street Southwest in Dayton, which is near the edge of town and not next to the Southeast Webster Grand Elementary School, as was originally reported.

He also stressed that volunteers were not being turned away.

“We don’t have too many volunteers,” he said. “That’s never the case.”

Volunteers were in high demand Wednesday morning.

“Up until 11 a.m., we couldn’t keep enough volunteers here,” said Steve Korger, Brushy Creek Area Red Cross, who was running the volunteer check-in station at the Dayton EMS building. “They were sending them out every 10 or 15 minutes.”

The last volunteer searchers for the day were sent out before 5:30 p.m. Around 128 had gone, he said.

“There’s still plenty of law enforcement out there,” Korger said. “They’re the professional searchers.”

Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs said much of the searching Wednesday was in very rough terrain along the Des Moines River.

“Obviously it will be time-consuming and painstaking,” Stubbs said. “It’s a lot of deep ravines and woods. It’s not easily traversed.”

Not all volunteers joined the search. Some donated food or bug spray, and supported the searchers.

Shepard’s high school classmates helped by serving lunch to volunteers.

“She was a quiet kid,” said Jossie Ferrari, standing outside the EMS building in Dayton after lunch.

“One of those people you didn’t really know, but you knew she was there,” said Macy Devries.

Emma Cuhmann added, “She’s a member of the choir, and always loved doing that.”

“She’s always nice to everybody,” said Aaliyah Scott.

They said they were shocked a young girl could be taken – and still missing – from their small community.

“Everybody knows everybody,” said Ferrari. “If a stranger talks to you, you think it’s nothing.”

“You assume your parents know them,” said Devries.

The teens were part of a group working with the Dayton Community Grocery to feed searchers.

“We’re just here doing whatever needs to be done,” said Rob Scott, store manager. “The school sent eight volunteers, and Fareway in Boone sent up a bunch of meat and cheese and bread for dinner. We’re supplying the place to prepare it and the students are doing the work.”

Ryan Dornath, of Otho, was a volunteer searcher Wednesday.

“You look for any disturbances in the ground,” Dornath said. “Footprints, tire tracks, anything out of the ordinary.”

Off-duty Webster County Sheriff’s Deputy April Murray helped coordinate searches.

“I’m not even on the clock today. I just wanted to come out and help,” Murray said. “I was one of the first officers called out on this. I couldn’t just go home.”

With the search entering its third night, still officials remained optimistic, though they would shut down the search when it became dark.

“Time is not our friend,” said Kietzmann, adding, “We’re still very hopeful. We have to be positive for the family. Until we know differently, we’re going to assume that she’s alive somewhere. We have the best in the business looking for her.”