Columbia man kills wife and daughters

Former Columbia Water and Light Director James Kraig Kahler is being held on 10 million dollars bond, charged with three counts of capital murder.

He was arrested on Sunday after a 12 hour manhunt. Kahler is accused of shooting and killing his wife Karen, and their daughters Emily and Lauren at Karen TMs grandmother's house in eastern Kansas. He also faces charges of attempted first-degree murder in the shooting of his wife's 89-year-old grandmother Dorothy Wright. She remains in critical condition. Authorities said Kahler's son Sean escaped and called for help.

Karen's attorney Daniel Pingelton believes the ten-year-old boy did not escape, but was spared. (Watch an extended interview with Pingelton)

"I am going to be brutally honest with you, Pingelton said. I wasn't surprised that Sean was the only one to escape. His dad let him go. His dad could have killed him. He chose not to for a reason."

Pingelton said the reason is that Kahler wanted his son, but never wanted his daughters. Both daughters were excellent students at Columbia TMs Rock Bridge High School. 18 year old Emily recently graduated from Rock Bridge and was attending pharmacy school at St. Louis University. 16 year old Lauren was a Rock Bridge junior.

The tragic news of Emily, Lauren and their mother, Karen, quickly spread across the Rock Bridge High School campus. Just before 11 a.m. the entire school stopped for a moment of silence.

"Even if someone didn't personally know one of these young ladies, knowing that this has occurred and knowing that this was someone in our family, I think we all hurt for that, Rock Bridge Principal Kathy Ritter said.

The Kahlers were going through a divorce. Kahler lost his job as Columbia TMs Water and Light Director after city manager Bill Watkins requested his resignation because of difficult family issues.

Karen, who worked as a fitness trainer at the Columbia ARC, got a restraining order against her husband after Kahler was charged with third-degree assault.

"The guy shows up and kills three people, Pingelton said. No piece of paper going to stop that."

Pingelton said his main priority is assisting the Kahler family in establishing a legal guardian for Sean.

Because both Kraig and Karen Kahler worked for the City of Columbia, City Manager Bill Watkins released a statement offering his condolences and offering counseling services to any employee who needs them.

The following is Watkins' statement:

I issue this statement on behalf of the City of Columbia with stunned sadness. The tragedy involving former Water and Light Director Kraig Kahler, his wife Karen, their children and her grandmother is almost beyond comprehension.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the survivors, the extended family and their colleagues and friends. As the family makes arrangements for services and other remembrances, we will act in accordance with their wishes.

Many of us knew Kraig and Karen well. Karen and the children continued to live in Columbia. She worked at the Columbia Activities and Recreation Center, on a contract basis, as a personal trainer and fitness coach. Both of them were part of the City family.

This loss affects all of us. Counseling is available through the City TMs Employee Assistance Program for those employees who wish to use the service, and I am available to any employee who needs additional help or information.

We have clarified with the Kansas Attorney General TMs office that they prefer to be the source of any comments on the case that they are handling. Out of respect for the family, and to avoid jeopardizing any further legal proceedings, whether here or in Kansas, I decline further comment at this time.

To restate the conditions of Kraig TMs employment with the City, I asked for and received his resignation last September. His difficult family issues, in my opinion, affected his focus on the Columbia Water and Light Department in a way that was not likely to change in the near future

Watch an extended interview with Dan Pingelton