Family, friends and search volunteers joined together to pray for the safe return of a missing Dayton teen Wednesday night. A candlelight vigil was held for 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard at the Emanuel Lutheran Church.
Volunteers and investigators have spent three days searching wooded areas, walking ditches, and knocking on doors since Kathlynn and her 12-year-old friend were abducted Monday afternoon.
Investigators had their first break in the case late Tuesday when they found Kathlynn’s backpack.
Authorities have focused their search on several key areas including the location the girls were abducted from a bus stop along First Avenue Southwest in Dayton. Police say they were lured into a car by 42-year-old Michael Klunder offering them a job doing yard work.
The two were then taken to a hog farm on 400th Street in Pilot Mound marking another important area investigators have been combing for clues. The 12-year old victim managed to escape from that location and ran to this nearby farm house.
Three hours later police located Klunder at another hog farm in Dayton. Police say he took his own life before investigators arrived.
The major break in the case took place in Boone County when a passing grater noticed the girl’s backpacks in a ditch in the 400 block of Kale Avenue. That area became the focus of an intense search Wednesday, but nothing more was found.
Kathlynn's family later released a statement saying, "We would like to thank everybody who took the time from their busy lives to help search for Kathlynn. To see so much love in our community and the surrounding areas is amazing. Thank you for all of your prayers and we hope to have Kathlynn home soon."
The DCI says they are remaining hopeful Kathlynn will be found. “Time is not your friend when you have these kinds of cases and now we're on day three…We're still trying to be optimistic and positive that we're going to be able to find her,” Agent Bill Keitzman said.
Officials are asking anyone who may have come in contact with Klunder between 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Monday to call police.
Klunder has a history of charges. In 1992, he was convicted of two kidnappings and assaults. In the first instance he kidnapped a 21-year-old woman. The next day, he abducted two three-year old girls in Charles City.
He was sentenced to 41 years in prison but was released in 2010. He is a registered sex offender. Because of Klunder’s history, police in Evansdale say they will investigate whether there is a connection between Klunder and the kidnappings of two cousins. Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins were abducted last July. Their bodies were found in December.
Evansdale’s police chief tells the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier that he will look into Klunder’s whereabouts at the time of their disappearances.