Kathlynn’s family says thank you

DAYTON – Mike Shepard and other family members told the Dayton community in person how thankful they were for all the community help at a community brunch late Sunday morning.

Shepard’s 15-year-old daughter Kathlynn Shepard has been missing since she was abducted May 20.

When asked how he finds strength through this difficult time, Shepard simply gestured toward the community center full of supporters.

“The people,” he said. “At first, there was a little bit of support on Monday, but on Tuesday morning, there’s no way to describe it. To think people would stop what they’re doing, stop with their lives and come help us, it blows my mind.”

Mike Shepard’s brother and sister-in-law came up from Kansas City, Mo., to support him.

Other family members came from Georgia, South Dakota and Minnesota, Shepard said.

He said he came to the community brunch to thank everyone in person so they would know how much it meant to him.

“If it was me, reading a thank you means a lot, but actually hearing a thank-you helps to keep everything alive.”

Shepard said he understands why an Amber Alert wasn’t issued. What bothers him, he said, is that Michael Klunder, who the DCI identified as her abductor, got out of prison.

Klunder, 42, of Stratford, was convicted of third-degree kidnapping in 1992 and sentenced to 41 years in prison, but was released in 2011 because of earned time.

Still, he said, he has compassion for the alleged kidnapper’s family.

“My heart goes out to the Klunder family,” Shepard said. “They had nothing to do with it. I hope people will leave them alone, unless it’s to give them the best wishes.”

Shepard said his family has been contacted by an advocate who was instrumental in pushing through Kaydn’s Law, which enacted stiffer penalties for drivers who don’t stop for a school bus. The advocate wants to help him enact a Kathlynn’s Law that would require mandatory sentences for sex offenders and make it easier to issue Amber Alerts.

Guests wore purple to the brunch and received purple ribbons made throughout the week by volunteers. Purple was Kathlynn’s favorite color.

“It started as purple for Kathlynn, but if it will help keep this from happening to anybody else, then it’s purple for all the kids,” Mike Shepard said.

He also said how much he appreciated the other abductee. a 12-year-old girl, who escaped and told the police where the two girls had been taken.

“If she hadn’t left, nobody would have known,” he said. “She did the right thing. She did exactly what I’m sure her parents taught her to do, what I taught Kathlynn to do. I won’t call her a hero. She doesn’t want to be called a hero, but I am her biggest fan.”

He spoke briefly on his daughter’s love of music; she was in the school choir.

“She loved country music,” Mike Shepard said. “One of her favorite songs this month was ‘King of the Road,’ and Hunter Hayes’ ‘Wanted.’ She loved Taylor Swift, even though her older sister hated it.”

She also loved animals, he said.

“She would come home late from school because she was petting every animal,” Mike Shepard said.

The search continues

The search for Kathlynn continued Sunday on a smaller scale, led by local law enforcement instead of the DCI.

Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar organized two groups of Dayton firefighters, EMS responders, and volunteers to re-check some areas of interest Sunday afternoon.

“We’re still searching, we’re still out there,” he said. “The weather and time is not on our side,” he said. “We are still thinking she is, and we will find her.”

The searches looked very different from a few days ago, when FBI and DCI agents used the fire department as a command center, and hundreds of citizen volunteers waited outside the EMS building for marching orders.

Sunday, firefighters were moving the tables and chairs that had been used to feed the army of officials and volunteers, and putting their fire trucks back in the shed.

Much of the search Sunday was based on tips, Dunbar said. It will be the same today.

“We’re still taking leads, still getting phone calls,” he said. “It looks different now. There could be only seven or eight of us out, but if we find something we can call more in.”

There are hundreds of people Dunbar can call in at a moment’s notice, he said.

Dunbar said people can still go out and search on their own, and he especially hoped people would search their own properties.

“You know your own property better than us. If something’s not there, something is there that you didn’t put there, something’s moved, call us,” Dunbar said.

All tips should go to the Webster County Sheriff’s Office, 573-1410.

The DCI will meet again in Dayton Tuesday morning to determine how to proceed, said Bill Kietzman, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation special agent in charge.

He said the search was being scaled back and that Webster County officials were in charge over the weekend. The DNR is still searching the river, and the Iowa State Patrol’s Air Wing will fly whenever weather permits.

“The search was so extensive and so complete, there’s nothing we can do again that wasn’t done several times,” he said.

“We have an area that we wanted to cover,” said Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs, “and it’s pretty much been covered. There was over 200 square miles we’ve walked, by horse, by ATV, volunteers and law enforcement. Now we have to start to prioritize more.”

The searchers were delayed Sunday by the weather, as storm cells rolled in with cloud-to-ground lightening.

Dunbar spent most of his time in the command center earlier in the week, since he knew the local names of many of the hollows and creeks in the area. Sunday was his chance to go out searching himself.

He led one team of Dayton firefighters and EMS responders who searched on ATVs through an area along River Road and Skillet Creek Road, southeast of Dayton.

The searchers stopped regularly to wade through thick grass. They climbed steep ravines covered with plants still sopping wet from the rain, slogging through mud at other times.

It was very easy compared to other terrain they’d seen on their search, said firefighter Adam Burns.

“Some places we were reaching and grabbing trees, and just hoping it wouldn’t pull away,” Burns said. “There were spots where it was just about straight up and down. But everybody would do it again if we had to.”

Burns works for Fort Dodge Asphalt, which let him come down and search all week. He was there every day from the time they started until 11 p.m. some days, he said.

“Something like this you don’t expect. It’s a shock to a small town,” he said. “All the small towns, I hope they think about this. You don’t think about it until it happens, and then it’s too late.”

“The bottom line is, at the end of the day we still can’t bring her back to her family,” said Rachel Larson, EMS responder.

“It is discouraging, not knowing,” Burns said. “It’s so much ground to cover. We spend all this time and we don’t have answers.”

But he definitely will keep coming and searching as much as he can.

“If it was your kid, that would be the worst,” said Burns. “That’s the biggest thing. If it was my kid, I wouldn’t give up.”

Church service

Sunday morning began with an ecumenical church service, where the first speaker was Iowa State Trooper Kelly Hindman.

“We’re going to bring Kathlynn home. I refuse to believe anything else,” Hindman said. “She will find out what we found out about Dayton over the last few days – Dayton is a great place to call home.”

“Friday night was hard,” he said. “We police put up this persona, we’re tough police officers. We can handle anything. Well, we’re folks just like you. Friday it all just piled up. For some it was on Monday, for some Tuesday. You can take what you can take, and then you can’t take much more. “We want to find her so bad. So, so bad.”

The police have had lots of bright minds doing everything they can think of, he said, and will continue to do it. – even if the search looks smaller now than it did at first.

“I have a fear that the community will think we’re abandoning you,” he said. “We’re not. The work that’s going on here, some of it’s very visible, the kind of work you’ve seen over the past few days, and some of it is behind the scenes. We want you to know we’re working tirelessly to bring Kathlynn home.”