DAYTON - Investigators have identified a body found in the Des Moines River Friday as that of Kathlynn Shepard, the 15-year-old girl who was abducted along with a younger friend while walking home from school last month in the Webster County town of Dayton.
Following an autopsy Saturday, Dr. Julia Goodin, chief state medical examiner determined the cause of death to be multiple sharp and blunt force injuries. The manner of death will be certified as homicide, according to a Department of Public Safety press release.
"Today our family has lost part of its soul - not just the Shepard family but the families of Dayton and all of Iowa," the Shepards said in a statement. "An innocent, caring, fun-loving child was taken from this world long before her time."
Kathlynn is now in a better place and safe from predators, the family said.
The positive identification has brought "some type of closure to the family and to everyone involved," said Webster County Sheriff James Stubbs Sunday.
"We were robbed of some innocence in this whole thing," Stubbs had said after the body was discovered. "Hopefully time will heal some of those wounds, but the awareness is a lot higher than it was before."
It's going to take a long time until anything resembling normalcy returns to town, said Dayton Police Chief Nick Dunbar.
"I mean, it's never going to be normal here," he said. "Dayton has changed."
Throughout, the community has done a good job offering support, Dunbar said.
"We had the candlelight vigil (Saturday) night," he said. "And a lot of her classmates were there, a lot of people from the high school and around town. People who didn't even know Kathlynn were there. We will persevere here in town, but it's going to take some time." A vigil will be held tonight at 8:30 p.m. just off Third Street and Sixth Avenue Northwest, with the lighting of a tree of hope.
The body was found by fishermen in a log jam beneath the Kate Shelley High Bridge, a train trestle west of Boone. Investigators had expressed confidence the body was Kathlynn's. Clothes on it matched what the high school freshman was wearing when a man lured her and a 12-year-old friend into a pickup truck.
Authorities also found zip ties matching ones used to restrain the younger girl, who managed to escape and call 911.
Authorities said Kathlynn and her friend were lured into a pickup that police believe was driven by registered sex offender Michael Klunder. They said Klunder took the girls to a hog confinement facility where he worked, and the 12-year-old girl was able to get away.
Klunder, 42, was found dead hours later at another rural property. Authorities said he hanged himself.
Gerard Meyers, assistant director of field operators for the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation, said Sunday that authorities believe Klunder acted alone.
"We have no indications of any co-conspirators," he said.
Meyers has said a positive identification would be "the final trigger for not only the family but the community, our investigative personnel, our partner agencies to move into that next phase, which is really the closure phase of this very unfortunate circumstance."
Hundreds of officers and volunteers had searched for Shepard but hopes of finding her alive were dampened when testing confirmed that blood found on Klunder's truck and at the hog building was Shepard's.
Klunder had been released from prison in 2011, after serving 20 years for convictions in two separate Iowa kidnappings that occurred on back-to-back days in December 1991.
Police also are investigating whether Klunder is responsible for kidnapping and slaying two young cousins who vanished while riding bikes in Evansdale, about 90 miles from Dayton. The bodies of the girls, who were ages 10 and 8 when they vanished, were found in December in a wooded area in Bremer County, where Klunder once lived in a home for emotionally troubled youth.