Senior Paige Shipma did not want to look at the newspaper. She knew if she glanced at the front page, the events and emotions of two years ago would come rushing back at her. Each day, a new story covered the trial of Kraig Kahler. Every story seemed to detail the events of Nov. 28, 2009, when Shipma lost her best friend.
“It was kind of nerve-racking knowing the trial was going on, but I tried not to follow it too much because there is so much emotional stuff attached to it,” Shipma said. “The way the papers keep saying the same stuff over and over again, you don’t want to keep reading it really.”
For Shipma, the experience was close to unbearable. Through it all, she tried to remain true to her friend. Before casting judgment on Kraig Kahler, Shipma asked herself if Lauren would want to see her father punished. Remembering her friend as a kind and loving person, Shipma always fell short of an answer for that question.
But then one day, a detail in one of the news articles caught her eye. Sean Kahler, Lauren’s younger brother who had been 10 at the time of the incident, had taken the stand. One phrase of Sean’s testimony provided Shipma with the answer she needed. Now Shipma knew how she wanted the trial to end.
“They asked Sean ‘Do you still love your father?’ and he said ‘Not really,’” Shipma said. “I didn’t want to say that I wanted him to get the death penalty before, because I wasn’t sure if that’s what Lauren would want … But after hearing what Sean testified to, I’m glad he’s being considered for it.”
During the course of a three week trial, Kahler was convicted of murdering his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law and reccomended for the death penalty. Official sentencing will take place Oct. 11.
Several current and former students anxiously anticipated Kraig Kahler’s conviction. 2011 graduate Katie Holthouse, who worked with Emily and Lauren Kahler at Papa Murphy’s, followed every detail of the trial, wanting to see justice served to Kahler for the crimes he committed.
I was “definitely really relieved [upon hearing the conviction] just because of the fact that guy took four lives, two of them being coworkers and friends of mine,” Holthouse said. “So I was definitely relieved and thankful that they finally got the justice that those girls deserved.”
Not only did the friends of the Kahler family have to deal with the nerves and emotions as they waited for a conviction, but many of them had to participate in the investigation and prosecution of Kraig Kahler. Although she never testified, Shipma was subpoenaed. Holthouse was interviewed by the FBI earlier in the investigation.
To Holthouse, the ordeal has not only been unforgettable and highly emotional, but also completely unpredictable. The Kahler girls held themselves together, giving others like Holthouse no reason to believe anything was out of the ordinary at home.
“They were talkative. They were outgoing. You’d never be able to tell there was something wrong with their dad or their home life. You’d never be able to tell that for sure,” Holthouse said. When She found out about the incident, “I didn’t believe it at first, of course, and then my second reaction was I was just mad because those girls definitely didn’t deserve anything that happened to them or anything and I was just mad at the fact that something horrific had to happen to them.”
Nothing could have prepared Shipma for the night when she found out about the tragedy. She sat at her computer, browsing the internet and occasionally checking facebook. Suddenly, a friend’s status caught her attention.
“Rest in peace, Lauren. I can’t believe this happened to you.”
Shipma hesitated for a moment, but she didn’t worry — she thought the Lauren mentioned in the status was another girl, and after checking her facebook status, Shipma believed everything was okay. In her mind, everyone was okay. Nothing had happened to her best friend.
Then, hours later, Shipma received a phone call from a friend.
“Are you okay?” the friend asked her frantically.
“What do you mean?” Shipma replied, confused. “Of course I’m okay. I’m sitting here doing homework.”
“Oh God,” her friend replied. “You don’t know. Turn on the TV. It’s all over the news.”
Shipma became frusterated and angry. She didn’t want to turn on the television. Instead, she demanded her friend tell her what was going on.
As the words left her mouth, Shipma was hit by a wave of realization. Everything, the facebook status and this strange conversation, came together as she realized the horrifying facts.
“He told me ‘Lauren’s dead. He killed her,’” Shipma said. “I screamed as if I was in pain and I fell to the floor. I was crying and my little brother rushed in. He was freaked out, you know, because I was laying on the ground crying.”
In that moment, her junior year of high school became the most difficult year of her life. The sleepovers, lunches and late night cruises in Shipma’s car that had typified her friendship with Lauren was only months ago, but seemed much farther away.
But Shipma has finished grieving the loss of her best friend. The mourning and the pain of junior year was “a book she had to close.” Student counseling sessions at school, as well as help from other friends of Lauren, helped her ease her pain. Studying abroad on a previously planned trip to Belgium helped her escape the everyday reminders of the tragedy that existed back home in Columbia. And whenever she needed it, facebook posts on a memorial group helped her to keep communicating to her best friend. When Shipma returned to Columbia in June, the preparations for the trial were just getting started. But when the trial was over, Shipma knew she had already found ways to move past the tragedy before the trial even started.
The sentence “does give a certain amount of closure to an extent because you now know he’s getting what he deserves,” Shipma said. “He’s not going to be on the street walking around. I’m never going to see or walk into him ever. But I think that I got closure, as far as my friendship with Lauren, a long time ago.”
By Jack Schoelz