DES MOINES, Iowa — A 15-year-old central Iowa girl who was abducted after getting off her school bus was still missing Tuesday, and authorities said a massive search was underway. Meanwhile, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said the man who is suspected of taking her and another girl committed suicide.
Dozens of federal, state and local law enforcement officials are searching by air, land and water for Kathlynn Shepard. She and a 12-year-old girl, who are friends, were taken Monday afternoon shortly after stepping off a school bus in Dayton, about 60 miles north of Des Moines. The younger girl, who was later able to escape, told authorities the girls had accepted a ride from a stranger.
DCI Special Agent Bill Kietzman said Tuesday that the body of 42-year-old suspect Michael Klunder was found Monday night with a red Toyota Tundra pickup at a rural property northeast of Dayton.
Kietzman said authorities have begun focusing their search for Kathlynn to locations within 20 miles of Dayton, including Klunder's residence. Previously, the search covered up to 100 square miles of mostly rural areas.
Authorities have also coordinated with the FBI to update electronic billboards around the state with information about the search.
Kietzman would not elaborate on the likelihood of finding Kathlynn alive, though he remained optimistic.
"Time obviously is not your friend in these kinds of situations," he said at a news conference. "Our plan is that we're going to find her alive. That's our hope."
The 12-year-old girl, who has not been identified, told investigators she and Kathlynn were taken to an agricultural facility. But she was able to escape a short time later and ran to a rural residence for help, Kietzman said. She was then taken to a Fort Dodge hospital and released.
The abduction spanned several hours, officials said, with Klunder's body being discovered nearly four hours after the girls were taken.
Kathlynn is described as being 5-feet-6-inches and 160 pounds. She has blond hair, blue eyes and braces. She was last seen wearing jeans, a gray hooded sweatshirt and a Minnesota Vikings baseball cap.
"The response by volunteers has been outstanding," said DCI Director Charis Paulson.
Jessica Lown with the Iowa Department of Public Safety said authorities have been in contact with Kathlynn's family and they have declined to comment.
"They're continuing to search for the girl under the assumption that she is still alive because right at this point in time we don't have information indicating otherwise," Lown said. "That's the way these things work for all missing children and missing person cases. We search until we find them."
Klunder is listed on the state's sex offender registry, prison records show. He spent several years in prison after being convicted on kidnapping and assault charges, including the 1991 abduction and assault of a Rudd woman and the kidnapping of two toddlers from an apartment complex in Charles City, according to the Mason City Globe Gazette. The girls, both 3, were found alive inside a dumpster.
He was released from a work release program in February 2011.
The abduction comes less than a year after the high-profile disappearance of two cousins in Evansdale, about 90 miles east of Dayton. Lyric Cook, 10, and 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins disappeared while riding their bikes last July. Hunters found their bodies in a remote, wooded area in December.
Evansdale Police Chief Kent Smock said investigators were looking into whether Klunder was involved in Lyric and Elizabeth's kidnappings and deaths. DCI and FBI agents who have been involved in the search for the Evansdale girls have been dispatched to help search for Kathlynn.
Smock said investigators were trying to determine whether Klunder had any ties to the area.
"There's a multitude of things we're looking at to determine whether he may be a person of interest or not a person of interest," he said. "It's much too early in their investigation to be able to say with any degree of accuracy one way or another whether it's related to our case at all."
Authorities are asking the public for information about any interactions with Klunder, as well of any sighting of his pickup between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Monday.
Associated Press Writer Ryan J. Foley contributed to this report from Iowa City, Iowa.
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