Last year at this time, Karen Kahler of Columbia, Kansas, was finishing her workday and making plans to head out the next day with her daughter, Emily 18, Lauren, 16, and son, Sean, 10, for Thanksgiving. Their plan was to visit Dorothy Wright, 89, Karen's grandmother, in Burlingame, Kansas, for the holiday weekend. Karen had filed for divorce earlier in the year from her violent and abusive husband, and this was to be the first holiday away from Kraig Kahler since their marriage.
Thanksgiving day was without incident for Karen, 47 (pictured above with her daughters), and it was first real taste of freedom, away from the constant monitoring, via texting, phone calls and following she had endured. Karen and her family planned activities and enjoyed their time together with a great sense of peace. When Saturday rolled around, they spent the day in town and then headed back to Grandma’s to have dinner.
On November 28, 2009, while placing a roast in the oven, the front door swung open and the sound of bullets and screams filled the home. Hours earlier, according to authorities, Kraig Kahler had been outside, waiting for the perfect moment to kill his family. Investigators say Karen was shot first, then Lauren, Grandma Wright and, finally, Emily. In the chaos, Sean managed to escape, unharmed, running to a nearby neighbor for help.
At approximately 6:15 pm, officers were summoned to the home in Burlingame, where Karen was dead and three others were wounded. They were transported to a Topeka hospital, where Lauren and Emily died soon after arriving, and Grandma died a few days later.
For Sean Kahler, this is not only his first Thanksgiving without his mom, sisters and grandmother, it is a holiday he would rather forget. For as long as this young man lives, Thanksgiving and, frankly, his life, will be extremely difficult.
As hard as he tries to simply go on and live his life, something will undoubtedly always remind Sean of the tragedy. It could be something as innocent as the way a door is left open or hearing a mom call out to her son in a park. Perhaps a special song favored by his sisters will come on the radio. It takes so little for a victim of a violent crime to be reminded; the pain is like a permanent tattoo that can't be removed.
Some days will be better than others for Sean. At times, the pain will undoubtedly stalk him like his worst enemy. Only this isn't a presence Sean can simply order to go away. He'll never be able to run from it, in particular, on every Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, his pain will be further magnified by the pending murder trial of his father. Sean Kahler, the lone survivor, is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution. After a handful of hearings, a court date is scheduled in December to determine if Sean can testify outside the courtroom by video camera. In my opinion, there should be no debate; Sean should not be forced to face the person who murdered his entire world.
Today, as you gather with family, my wish is for you to stop for a moment and say a prayer for Sean Kahler. Take a moment to leave words of hope and strength for Sean on this post. This young man has so little left to be thankful for. Pray that he can find peace one day and be thankful that his life was spared.