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Karen Kahler's grandmother closely tied to Kansas town's community

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 | 8:25 p.m. CST; updated 4:39 p.m. CST, Monday, December 7, 2009

*CORRECTION: The last name of Karen Kahler's mother is Hetrick. An earlier version of this article misspelled the last name.

BURLINGAME, Kan. — The 89-year-old grandmother of Karen Kahler died in a Topeka, Kan., hospital Tuesday after lingering for three days in critical condition with gunshot wounds.

Dorothy Wight lived in Burlingame, Kan., her entire life, and her home was the scene of a homicide Saturday that also took the lives of Kahler and her two teenage daughters.

Although the Kahlers lived in Columbia, they had spent Thanksgiving in Wight's  two-story country house in Burlingame.

James Kraig Kahler, Karen's estranged husband, has been charged with capital murder in connection with their deaths.  He had been living north of Topeka.

Karen Kahler's obituary, released by Penwell-Gabel Mid-Town Chapel in Topeka, said she had lived in a number of locations during her marriage, but her roots were in Burlingame, and she considered it home.

Her mother, Patricia Wight *Hetrick*, was one of Wight's three children.

Karen Hetrick Kahler was born on July 30, 1965, in Topeka. After graduating from Wichita High School South in 1983, she attended Kansas State University, where she met her husband. The two married on Dec. 28, 1985.

The Kahler family, with their two daughters and son, Sean, lived in Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and Missouri. They moved to Columbia in 2008 when Kraig Kahler became director of Columbia Water and Light. He was removed from his position in September.

Burlingame residents said Wight’s family often returned to her home to care for her as she became older. Her husband, George, died several years ago.

Frederick W. Godderz, an attorney in Burlingame and a former classmate of Patricia Hetrick's, said Wight was still living by herself despite a knee replacement and broken hip.

“She was a very strong woman,” Godderz said. “She was such a good person, a nice person, a good community member.”

Jon Schaefer, Burlingame’s police chief, remembered fishing with her children in the Wights’ pond. In addition to Patricia, Mrs. Wight's children are a daughter, Virginia, and a son, Robert.

Other Burlingame residents said they assisted Wight with household work and errands as she became older, mowing her lawn, taking out her garbage, taking her to church and checking on her at home.

Diane Wilkin, a close friend of Wight’s and owner of a beauty shop in Burlingame, said she was a strong person who would have tried to defend her family during a shooting.

“She was a beautiful woman,” Wilkin said.

Carol Kurtz, another close friend, remembered that Wight was a voracious reader and a frequent churchgoer, even in recent years.

Bob Thornburgh remembered Wight’s outgoing nature.

“She never saw anyone who wasn’t a friend,” he said.


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