Former Columbia Water and Light director held in Kansas in shooting deaths

Sunday, November 29, 2009 | 7:03 p.m. CST; updated 1:18 p.m. CST, Monday, November 30, 2009
This home near Burlingame, Kan., was the scene of a triple homicide Saturday afternoon. A 12-hour manhunt ended Sunday with the arrest of James Kraig Kahler, 46, the former director of Columbia Water and Light.

Updated: 8:13 p.m.

COLUMBIA — A former Columbia Water and Light director was being held Sunday in eastern Kansas in connection with the shooting deaths of his estranged wife and two teenage daughters.

James Kraig Kahler, 46, is expected to be formally charged Monday morning with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and aggravated burglary, according to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.

Kahler was being held in Osage County and is scheduled to appear in court at 11 a.m. Monday at the Osage County District Court.

The shooting was reported shortly after 6 p.m. Saturday in Burlingame, Kan., about 35 miles south of Topeka. One person was pronounced dead on scene, and two others died shortly after their arrival at Stormont-Vail Regional Health Center in Topeka, according to the Osage County, Kan., Sheriff’s Office.

The dead were identified as Kahler’s estranged wife, 44-year-old Karen Kahler, and his daughters, Emily, 18, and Lauren, 16. The Kahlers also had a young son, Sean, but authorities would not comment on his whereabouts or condition.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported on its Web site Sunday that police radio traffic indicated a 10-year-old child at the house was able to run from the scene and call for help. A neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed a boy at the scene of the crime had notified a neighbor about the shootings.

Dorothy Wight, Karen Kahler’s grandmother and the owner of the home where the shooting occurred, was also shot and was in critical condition, according to the sheriff’s department. A neighbor said Wight had lived there for a long time and had people visiting her for the holidays.

Authorities would not provide more details about the shooting.

Kahler was arrested at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday by Osage County deputies after a 12-hour manhunt. A deputy in neighboring Shawnee County spotted a man and vehicle matching Kahler's description about 40 minutes after the shooting. The man drove onto a private drive and fled on foot into a wooded area, according to the sheriff’s department.

Kahler was charged in Boone County with third-degree domestic assault in March. Karen Kahler filed for divorce in January, and in March, the court granted her request for an order of protection against her husband.

He was scheduled for trial on the domestic assault charge Wednesday in the 13th Circuit Court for Boone County.

Kahler’s attorney in that case, Rusty Antel, said his client had moved from Columbia to the Topeka area.

Kahler left Columbia Water and Light in September after being asked to resign by City Manager Bill Watkins. He served as director for about 14 months.

"I have no doubts about Kraig's professional integrity and intelligence, but he is experiencing some difficult family issues at this time," Watkins said in a news release at the time of the resignation. "In my opinion, this has affected his focus on the department in a way that is not likely to change in the near future."

Court records show the Kahlers' divorce trial was scheduled for Dec. 21. Records also said the Kahlers had been sparring over their children, and that a hearing was scheduled for January.

A neighbor of Karen Kahler said police were twice called to her home over the summer in response to reports that Kahler had slashed his wife's car tires and ripped out utility cables.

— The Associated Press and Missourian reporter Andrew Denney contributed to this article.

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Traci Wilson-Kleekamp November 30, 2009 | 3:42 a.m.

Karen Kahler was an awesome woman. She was the source of my inspiration for the past year in losing weight and enjoying some very challenging early am workouts. I loved her workout spirit. For those who knew her... know her ex-husband was a very dangerous man. As far as I know -- she made every effort to work with law enforcement to protect herself and her children. IMHO, City officials clearly knew (or should have known) Mr. Kahler was a very dangerous -- they didn't fire him on a whim. Only recently I told Karen she should get a restraining order in Kansas to protect herself while visiting family -- but clearly that wouldn't have helped. Seems to me that Mr. Kahler's harassment and other range of humiliating activities that he heaped upon Karen were not taken seriously enough -- and in the end she & her children's lives were taken. She was very brave, happy go lucky, beautiful and extremely nice woman. I am simply devastated by this news...oh how I will miss her me...please everyone pray for her son -- so much damage has been done!

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