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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

What happened in Overland Park could happen anywhere in South Dakota  


By Gordon Garnos

AT ISSUE: It has been about three weeks since the kidnapping and murder of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith in Overland Park, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. Security cameras at a Target store entrance and parking lot filmed her abduction and her abductor. Her body was later discovered and the alleged person who kidnapped and killed her is now behind prison bars awaiting trial. Overland Park is a long way from South Dakota, but what happened there could happen in any community in South Dakota.

IT IS ALWAYS FUN to travel to Kansas City and witness one of our granddaughter's dance recitals. However, this time the search was on to find Kelsey Smith, hopefully alive. But while we were there that did not happen. The newspapers were full of the tragedy. Four days after she was abducted from an Overland Park Target store, her body was found and her alleged abductor captured.

Story after story appeared in the Kansas City Star. First, about her missing and then the tragedy of how her life ended. But the story doesn't end there.. Of course there will be the continued sadness of her family and friends. The 26-year old man, Edwin Hall, now awaits his trial in jail.

Security camera film showed her leaving the Target store and being followed by the alleged killer. Another camera caught him shoving Kelsey into a car.

THE FIRST QUESTION that came to me was what kind of a person would do such a dastardly dead. The Kansas City Star asked that question as well, as tragic as it was.

Edwin Hall was adopted at the age of seven into the home of an Emporia, Kan., family. Eight years later he was convicted of threatening his adoptive sister with a knife and went back to state custody. He would spend the next three years in four correctional facilities never to return to his adoptive home. The adoption was withdrawn and the years since then he had been in a variety of scrapes with the law.

Since then the newspapers down there have published stories about how young women should protect themselves and the need for more security devices. And while those security cameras at the Target store helped capture Edwin Hall, it didn't stop the cold-blooded murder of 18-year-old Kelsey Smith.

SOUTH DAKOTA HAS an amber alert system, similar to those in other states. Part of that system are those large electronic signs seen along our interstate highways. But these are generally for helping find those young people 17 and younger. At least that is the way it is in Kansas. Kelsey was 18. So, shortly after seven p.m. on June 2 the amber alert system wasn't put into use.

Our law enforcement system in South Dakota is pretty darn good. I know first hand from the days I was a police and court reporter. But sometimes our law enforcement people are not called until it is too late. Also, many of our communities, especially the smaller ones may only have part-time officers on duty, or one officer who is supposed to be on duty 24-hours a day. That is a little tough to ask anyone, even in South Dakota.

But communities can have classes for young people, especially girls, on what to do if threatened. I remember reading about the value of just the car key as a weapon and a quick, hard kick in the proper place will send the toughest abductor to the ground. I am sure a policeman or woman or a member of the South Dakota Highway Patrol would be willing to teach such a class in any community in the state.

UNFORTUNATELY, most communities in South Dakota don't have a lot of security cameras in action like those at that Target store in Overland Park. They didn't save a life, but they helped catch a killer. Excuse me, an alleged killer.

It was three hours after Kelsey Smith's disappearance that it was reported to the police and the media didn't pick up on it until the next day.

Kansas and I Missouri work together on their amber alerts. What police could have done was issue a "secondary alert" that tells the news media that someone's life is in jeopardy. These are used, for example, when an elderly nursing home patient wanders away in the middle of the night during the winter. In Missouri it is called an "endangered person" alert. Hopefully, we have such a "secondary alert" system here in South Dakota.

SUCH A CRIME THAT happened in Overland Park can happen in South Dakota. We used to say such a thing would never happen in our community. But look at the death row in the penitentiary in that town near Harrisburg and in a couple of county jails, such a thing can happen in South Dakota....



Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion and recently retired after 39 years with that newspaper.  Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.


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