String of tragedies affect small town

Published: Monday, July 15, 2013 12:03 p.m. CDT

DAYTON (AP) — Dayton has endured a string of recent tragedies with four unexpected deaths in the area in the past two months that has many of the town’s 800 residents feeling uneasy.

The Des Moines Register reported the trouble began May 20 when two young girls were abducted.

The younger of the two girls, 12-year-old Dezi Hughes, escaped, but 42-year-old suspect Michael Klunder committed suicide. And 15-year-old Kathlynn Shepard’s body was found later.

Then last Tuesday, 30-year-old Brandon Mullen died in a grain bin six miles west of Dayton.

And a day later, the body of 22-year-old Steven Fisher was found in a roadside ditch about 15 miles north of Dayton. Two people — Ronald Dilley, 28, and Holly Ekstrom, 22, both of Fort Dodge — are now facing first-degree murder charges in Fisher’s death.

Some of the effects of the string of deaths are readily apparent in Dayton. Most homes and light poles are adorned with purple ribbons or some sort of memorial to Shepard. And residents say the streets appear quieter.

“I don’t even think words can describe the last two months,” said Brenda Hagge, a server at the Iron Saddle Saloon in downtown Dayton.

Amy Steck, who grew up in Dayton, imposed strict new rules on her children after Shepard’s abduction.

“It’s scary for people with kids now,” Steck said.

Michelle Nelson, whose children rode the same school bus as Shepard, said people don’t feel comfortable letting their kids walk around or bike as much anymore.

“I feel like I need to be looking at everybody whether I know them or not,” she said. “It’s just overwhelming sometimes. As a parent you need to watch everything.”

Scott Temple, professor of psychiatry at the University of Iowa, said it’s possible this streak of violence could trigger changes in Dayton.

“These people know the families, these people know the little girls, they know the guy in the grain elevator,” Temple said. “It pierces their sense of being exempt from a threat that’s engulfing a lot of other places.”

But he predicted that Dayton residents will help each other deal with their grief and shock.

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