Authorities said Thursday that blood found at a hog confinement facility in Pilot Mound, Iowa has been identified as that of missing 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard.
Shepard and a 12-year-old friend were abducted after getting off their school bus Monday afternoon in Dayton and taken to the facility. The 12-year-old girl escaped and fled to a nearby house for help, but Shepard is still missing.
The man who police believe abducted them, 42-year-old Michael Klunder, was found dead hours later. An autopsy concluded Thursday determined that Klunder—a registered sex offender who had prior convictions for kidnapping—hung himself.
Police announced at a press conference that blood found on the ground in two areas of the facility and inside the tailgate of Klunder’s pickup was confirmed as Shepard’s through DNA testing.
Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Special Agent Bill Kietzman would not say how much blood was found but he told reporters it was enough to suggest Shepard suffered some injuries.
“This evidence diminishes our hopes that we’re going to find her in a safe manner, but we’re not giving up,” Kietzman said.
Kietzman confirmed that information the 12-year-old provided to the Dayton Leader about the abduction was consistent with what she told law enforcement. He said Klunder’s weapon that the girl believed was a gun was actually a tool used to euthanize animals that looks similar to a gun.
According to the 12-year-old, the girls went with Klunder because he offered them money to mow lawns. He said he would take them to their parents’ homes to ask permission, but once they got in his truck, he drove them to the hog confinement facility several miles away.
The 12-year-old told police that Klunder brought them into an office and zip-tied their hands, then left the building with Kathlynn. She took the weapon and ran through the woods and across a field to a farmer’s house.
Klunder’s body was found at another location around 8 p.m. Monday. The following day, both girls’ backpacks were discovered about 15 miles south of the abduction site.
According to Kietzman, Klunder’s wife has been “completely cooperative” with investigators and is not suspected of involvement in the abduction.
“When someone’s family member does this, that makes them a victim as well,” Kietzman said.
Police have released a photo of Klunder’s red Toyota pickup truck, which has a silver liftgate and silver toolbox on the driver’s side. It has no license plate, just a Department of Transportation paper plate on the window behind the driver’s side.
Anyone who saw that truck between 4:50 p.m. and 8:20 p.m. on Monday is asked to call law enforcement at 515-573-1410.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety also announced Thursday that they have expanded the search to areas 10 miles north and northwest of the location in rural Dayton where Klunder’s body was found. Farmers and other residents are being asked to search their grounds and any abandoned buildings on their property.
“There is reason to believe he may have been in that area as well,” Kietzman said.
Police requested volunteers to participate in a search on Friday. According to the Des Moines Register, 250 to 300 people showed up on Friday morning to join the effort.
“We’re going to continue to search until we find Kathlynn, and we hope it’s sooner than later.” Dayton Mayor Richard Travis said at Thursday’s press conference.
Kietzman also addressed speculation that Klunder may have been involved in the deaths of 10-year-old Lyric Cook and 8-year-old Elizabeth Collins. The girls’ bodies were found in December 2012 following their disappearance in Evansdale, Iowa on July 13.
“Those are things we’re going to look at, questions that we all have,” he said, but he added that the focus right now is on finding Kathlynn and authorities will investigate possible connections to other cases “when the time is right.”
Evansdale Police Department Chief Kent Smock told HLN Friday that his officers are actively looking into the possibility and following some leads, but “it’s entirely too early in the investigation to draw a conclusion.”
“That information is still flowing in,” he said.
Smock said anyone with information regarding the Lyric Cook and Elizabeth Collins case can submit tips to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Cedar Valley Crime Stoppers at 855-300-8477.
See HLN’s previous story for additional photos of Kathlynn Shepard, a map of the search area and the newly-released photo of Klunder’s vehicle.