DAYTON - Investigators and the family of Kathlynn Shepard are waiting to learn if a body found in the Des Moines River in Boone County Friday evening is indeed that of the missing Dayton teenager.
An autopsy, which authorities believed would provide final identification of the body, was conducted Saturday by the state medical examiner's office. Gerard Meyers, the assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said Saturday evening that the need to do dental comparisons slowed the process. He said authorities will make a statement on the autopsy results today or Monday.
''By no means does this diminish our belief that it is Kathlynn, but in order to do a thorough, methodical identification we will do some dental comparisions,'' he said.
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Gerard Meyers, assistant director of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, announces that a body found in the Des Moines River is likely that of Kathlynn Shepard. Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar is to Meyers’ left. They were at a press conference early Saturday morning in the Boone police station.
Shepard has been missing since May 20 when she and a 12-year-old girl who later escaped were abducted by Michael Klunder, according to investigators. Klunder committed suicide by hanging himself in a hog confinement building that night, investigators said.
During a hastily convened press conference very early Saturday morning at the Boone police station, Meyers said that officials believed they had recovered the body of the 15-year-old.
''All preliminary indications would support the belief that it is Kathlynn,'' he said.
Plastic zip ties found with the body support the belief that it is that of Shepard, he said. He said the zip ties are consistent with those found earlier in connection with the abduction.
Meyers added that the clothing on the body is consistent with what Shepard was last wearing.
He described the discovery as a ''preliminary point of closure,'' but added that the investigation continues.
The body was found Friday evening amid logs and other debris in the river that had piled up against a pier of the Kate Shelley High Bridge that carries the Union Pacific Railroad tracks over the water. The bridge is northwest of Boone.
Meyers said the body was discovered by a fisherman, who called 911 at 6:59 p.m. to report it. Boone County sheriff's deputies responded to the scene.
The area around the bridge had not been checked during the extensive searches that followed Shepard's abduction, according to Meyers.
''All I can tell you is the recovery site was quite a distance down river,'' he said.
Meyers said Shepard's family was notified of the discovery on Friday.
The search involved 150 agencies and hundreds of volunteers, according to Webster County Sheriff Jim Stubbs. It covered about 250 square miles.
Division of Criminal Investigation agents have said that Shepard and the other girl had just gotten off a school bus in Dayton and were walking home when Klunder approached them in his pickup truck. He asked them if they wanted to make some money mowing lawns, and offered to let them use his cell phone to call their parents after taking them to the site. But instead of taking them to a mowing job, he took them to a hog confinement near Pilot Mound. There, investigators said, he threatened them with a weapon used to euthanize livestock and bound them with plastic zip ties. After he took Shepard to another area in the building, the 12-year-old took the weapon and ran.
Klunder, 42, of Stratford, was convicted of third degree kidnapping in 1992 and was sentenced to 41 years in prison. However, he was released in 2011 in accordance with state law.
''The law states that when somebody walks into the prison system, for every day here they get 1.2 days off their sentence,'' said Fred Scaletta, a spokesman for the Iowa Department of Corrections. ''That can reduce the sentence by more than half.''
At the time Klunder was convicted, there was no mandatory minimum sentence for kidnapping. Shepard's family hopes to change laws to create mandatory sentences. Her father, Mike Shepard, has even asked U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley for help during a recent town hall meeting.