Dayton pulls together in search for Kathlynn Shepard

May 23, 2013

The search for 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard in northern central Iowa has gripped the small community of Dayton as investigations into the abduction continue. The community has rallied together. While some help with the search, others are focused on helping each other cope.

Fewer than one thousand people live here in rural Dayton, but the population swelled as volunteers poured in to help search for the 15-year-old abducted as she walked home from the bus stop on Monday.  

“All you can think about is the pain the families, are going through right now, once you start looking you can’t stop. Everyone out here has a job, has to work. They just want to keep going until they find her,” said one volunteer.

For days, searchers have used horses, ATV’s, and boats to try to find Kathlynn Shepard, a teenager who friends say always has a smile and something kind to say.

Friends and community members honored her at a vigil Wednesday night. In a town where everybody knows everybody, the events have been traumatizing.  

But nobody remembers what happened more clearly than 12-year-old Dezirea Hughes, who escaped the abduction and alerted authorities.

“You wouldn’t have expected it to happen in a small town,” she said.

Hughes says she and Shepard were close to their homes when a man pulled up in a red pickup truck and offered them a job mowing lawns.

“He told us to keep quiet so nobody would hear us, but there weren’t people  for a long time away. I had to run pretty far in the woods to get to another person’s house,” Hughes said.

Hughes’ step father, Mike Schwering, says it could have happened to anyone in this small town.

“They were offered a job to get in a truck. How many teenagers are going to jump at a chance to go make some money.”

But when news of the abduction spread, members of this tight-knit community turned out in full force. Neighbors, strangers, and businesses donated food and supplies to rescuers and to families of the victims. An online community newspaper called the Dayton Leader has coordinated donations; a family friend, Renee Williams, volunteered to help.

“This has come in the past 15 minutes,” she said, gesturing to a table piled high with hot food and paper products.

“It brings tears to my eyes,” she said.

For more than 500 students in the Southeast Webster Grand school district, Superintendent Launi Dane says they are focused on finishing the school year, and desperately hoping to see Kathlynn home safe.

“You don’t have a protocol and you don’t have a book to follow when these things happen to kids. So you do your best,” she said.