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Area communities support former Pine River couple

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From donation jars to charitable car washes and bake sales, local family and friends of Kathlynn Shepard are trying to gather support to make changes to lax laws that could save lives.

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There are approximately 375 miles between Pine River and Dayton, Iowa, where authorities still search for information on the whereabouts of Kathlynn, 15, who was abducted Monday, May 20. Donation jars, purple ribbons and fundraisers bring the tragedy of the search much closer to home.

Kathlynn’s mother and father, Denise and Michael Shepard, are former Pine River residents. Though they moved away after Denise’s graduation from Pine River-Backus High School in 1992, the couple still has family in the area, including cousins and “Grandma” Margie Richards.

“Kathlynn is shy, a little bit of a tomboy and the friendliest, friendliest, friendliest girl you ever knew,” Richards said.

Richards is Michael’s aunt. Michael stayed with her during high school after his parents divorced. Richards said Michael and Denise left the area when Michael joined the Army. They return for family reunions and holidays, so Richards has gotten to know Kathlynn through those family events.

Since Kathlynn’s abduction became public, family and friends in Minnesota and Iowa have begun a campaign to change laws that they say may have prevented this tragedy.

“Obviously we want her found, but the main goal of the purple ribbons and the newspaper and the media is to get the laws changed,” Richards said. “These people who get out (of prison) early, how many people would be alive today if they had served their full sentences?”

They call their campaign Kathlynn’s Hope. It is an effort to get governing officials to change laws, which currently allow sexual offenders like Michael Klunder to get out of prison early. Richards hopes that sex offenders, especially repeat offenders, will someday be required to complete full mandatory sentences.

In 1992, Klunder was sentenced to up to 41 years in prison in connection with prior kidnapping and assault charges. Klunder was released early in 2011, only 19 years into his sentence. Iowa’s earned time law allows this. Klunder allegedly committed suicide after a 12-year-old girl abducted along with Kathlynn escaped and called for help. Kathlynn has not been found.

Richards said police departments in Iowa have painted their walls purple in support of Kathlynn’s Hope. Other support has come in the form of bracelet sales in her honor and photos of her favorite football player, Adrian Peterson, holding a sign reading, “Kathlynn, You are in our prayers! God Bless.”

People are showing support in many other ways as well. Family in Pine River arranged a fundraising bake sale and car wash at the Pine River Fire Hall last Saturday, June 1. They not only sold plenty of baked goods, but also washed cars in spite of generally rainy weather.

They raised just over $1,200 at the fundraiser. That total does not include money from donation jars at businesses throughout the lakes area.

“It’s just starting here,” Richards said. “This is our first big effort outside of allowing us to put out donation cans and tying ribbons everywhere, this is the beginning.”

Meanwhile, in Iowa, searchers have covered more than 250 square miles looking for Kathlynn. Webster County Sheriff James Stubbs said the Des Moines River is complicating search efforts.

“A lot of the ground that has been searched by foot is under water. The Des Moines River is in flood stage,” Stubbs said. “We’re following the leads and we are waiting for the weather to cooperate a little bit so we can get back on the river and use an airplane besides.”

Many different groups and individuals assisted in the search, including some Pine River residents.

“What I’m hoping for and what I expect is closure for the family and case. To say we’ve given up all hope, I won’t do that. I don’t believe that’s necessarily the case,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs, who has been to Pine River, said crimes like this are not common in Dayton, a town of about 830 people.

“Webster County itself, I suppose, is close to 40,000, but even these types of incidents just don’t happen every day by any means ... It all in some regards robs everybody of their innocence due to the fact you didn’t think it could happen like this and now we have it,” Stubbs said. “It changes everybody’s perspective on things at the moment and it will never be the same.”

Richards said interested parties can help their cause by making donations, spreading the word, wearing purple and writing to governing officials for stricter laws. To get involved, search “Kathlynn’s Hope” on facebook or visit youcaring.com/shepard.

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