Law enforcement agencies from across Iowa were honored Thursday night for their investigative work into the abduction and murder of Kathlynn Shepard.
One of those recognized with the Department of Justice Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee 2014 Law Enforcement Award is the Dayton Police Department and its chief, Nicholas Dunbar.
Shepard, 15, of Dayton, was abducted while walking home from school on May 20, 2013. Her body was found in the Des Moines River in Boone County more than two weeks later on June 7.
Dunbar’s involvement began with a phone call from Webster County Sheriff’s Deputy Luke Fleener.
“He called me and just said get your gear on and meet me in your driveway,” Dunbar said.
He spent the next 48 hours on duty.
“I went on duty about 5:30 on Monday, ” he said. “I don’t think I made it home ’til Thursday.”
The award not only recognizes Dunbar’s involvement in the case, but the cooperation between agencies that came to Dayton’s aid.
Dunbar has high praise for the other agencies.
“There were no jurisdictional problems,” he said. “We all worked in concert with each other.”
He said that among the other agencies who were recognized for their work on the Shepard case were the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Fort Dodge Police Department, the Webster County Sheriff’s Department, the Boone County Sheriff’s Department and Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department, the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, and the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility’s Correctional Emergency Response Team.
Dunbar is still overwhelmed by the amount of outreach the search received from other emergency responders.
“Once we got the command center set up,” he said, “we got calls from around the state offering help.”
That command center – set up in the Dayton City Hall – became the hub for the entire operation, including the flow of information in and out.
“The information flow was fluid,” Dunbar said. “It was incredible.”
The case is still close to his heart.
“When I’m in Dayton, it’s always there with me,” he said.
It stays with him when he leaves too. An encounter with a purple ribbon on a rural road brought it back on another occasion.
“Those are the moments when it hits you,” he said.
The community has changed. Dayton is no longer the innocent small town it was before the abduction and murder.
“People are a little more cautious. I don’t see the kids out as much as I used to,” Dunbar said. “People have become aware that the big city crimes can happen in a small town.
While he is honored to be recognized with the other law enforcement agencies that worked the case, Dunbar will be happy never to get another of the rewards.
“It’s bittersweet,” he said. “All the blood, sweat and tears and we didn’t get the results we wanted.”
Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs shares Dunbar’s sentiment.
“It was a difficult case to work and to be involved with because of the circumstances and the outcome,” Stubbs said. “We’re honored to receive it, but it’s bittersweet because of the outcome.”
He, too, looks back at the event and remembers the cooperation. The award “recognizes the working relationship and partnerships between all the agencies.”
Stubbs said, “It shows how everybody pulled together for a common cause,”
In addition to the Shepard case, Fort Dodge Police Detective Steve Hanson was honored for his work on the CS Bank robbery case and the Iowa Police Chiefs Association recognized slain Rockwell City Police Officer Jamie Buenting as its Officer of the Year for 2014.
Dayton’s award will reside in the local police department’s small office in City Hall.
“It will stay here at the station,” Dunbar said. “It’s for the officers that were here at the time.”
Messenger reporter Peter Kaspari contributed to this story