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Authorities suspend search for abducted teen

By THOMAS BEAUMONT | May 30, 2013

FORT DODGE (AP) — The father of a missing Iowa teenager asked U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley on Wednesday to support stricter sex-crime penalties that he said could have prevented her abduction — a request that came the same day authorities suspended an exhaustive ground search for the girl.

Michael Shepard, wearing a purple bandanna and jersey to honor his daughter's favorite color, asked the Iowa Republican during a town hall meeting to support legislation that his family, friends and supporters plan to offer to the state Legislature next year. Among their requests is requiring some offenders to serve more of their prison sentences.

"If we can get this out to the forefront, hopefully nobody else's daughter, granddaughter, sister would have to suffer," Shepard told Grassley and about 80 other people gathered at the Fort Dodge library.

Police suspect that a registered sex offender, Michael Klunder, abducted 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard and her 12-year-old friend on May 20 in Dayton, a town about 60 miles north Des Moines. The younger girl was able to escape. Klunder committed suicide hours later.

Authorities have looked through 250 square miles in three counties for any sign of Kathlynn, but they announced Wednesday that they were halting their search, saying they've exhausted their efforts. They also said flooding means some areas are now under water and has made river searches risky.

Some of Kathlynn's blood was found last week, dampening hopes of finding her alive. But officials say residents should still check their properties for anything suspicious.

Grassley, who held the meeting in Fort Dodge to answer questions about federal policy and legislation in Congress, thanked Shepard but noted that the concern was a state, not a federal, issue. But the senator offered to tell his grandson, Patrick Grassley, who is a member of the Iowa Legislature.

"If there's something at the federal level, I'd be glad to take your suggestions and work on that," Grassley said.

Klunder was released from prison in 2011, having served about half of a 41-year sentence after pleading guilty to third-degree kidnapping and assault for separate 1991 offenses.

Prosecutors had dropped first-degree kidnapping charges in exchange for Klunder's guilty plea to the lesser offense. Corrections officials say Klunder's prison time was reduced because he met behavior requirements.

Supporters of the Shepards, many wearing lavender ribbons, also argued at Wednesday's meeting that lawmakers should add kidnapping to the list of offenses for which offenders must register upon their release.

Grassley has been a proponent of mandatory minimum sentences for federal crimes. But he said more lawmakers have supported lesser sentences in recent years, particularly for drug offenses.

"You're kind of fighting a defensive battle at this point, not an offensive battle," Grassley said.

Klunder also had prior convictions for assault and burglary dating back to his teenage years.

Iowa Department of Corrections officials said they reviewed Klunder in 2011 and ruled him fit for release, and not as a sexually violent predator who could be locked up longer.

As a registered sex offender, he had to check in with the local sheriff's office twice a year, and he fulfilled that requirement, they said.

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