The consciousness-raising that Kara Kopetsky’s family has so valiantly accomplished is more than enough.
For nearly a decade since the Belton teenager’s disappearance in 2007, they’ve kept their beloved Kara’s name, face and story in the public eye. And yet, another young woman may have crossed paths with the same man that her family has long believed was tied to Kara’s disappearance.
There is no shame in this latest turn. Not for Kara’s mother, stepfather and her many extended family members. Their devotion and drive is extraordinary. Somewhere along the way they switched from being a voice for their daughter, to being a voice for many.
Rare is the family who is able to keep such a sustained focus on pleading with the public for information. They did it without deep pockets. And without inherent social capital. Among the most prominent annual event is a walk in Kara’s honor. Their consistency, all of the events in her name, came with the mental grind of countless media interviews.
The many signs and fliers asking for information on the case don’t become tattered and worn. They’re just replaced with new ones. As a result, the footage of Kara walking out of Belton High School, the last known images of her, is familiar to most Kansas Citians.
But now the metropolitan area anxiously awaits new developments, along with her family. Kara’s case has been linked to the disappearance of another young woman, Jessica Runions, 21, of Raymore.
Kara’s ex-boyfriend at the time of her disappearance, Kylr Yust, has been charged with burning Jessica’s car, which was found in south Kansas City last week. The car was discovered days after Jessica didn’t show up for a doctor’s appointment and after she’d reportedly been at a gathering that Yust also attended.
Suspicions of Yust have long swirled around Kara’s disappearance, first voiced by her family. She had sought an order of protection against Yust because he allegedly forced her into a car a few days before she disappeared and held her against her will. And she had posted online that she was done with the relationship.
Later, there would be other young women, former girlfriends, who would allege that Yust was possessive and threatening. He served time for receiving designer drugs. And there was the story that he tortured kittens; if true, a red-flag that he might be capable of other forms of violence.
But hearsay is not evidence. Charges cannot come from the alleged exploits of a rotten boyfriend.
So Kara’s family continues to wait.
They have carefully walked a fine line between being critical of the police whom they are dependent upon for resolution, and the need to be supportive of detectives. Initially, there were accusations that the first reports of Kara’s failure to answer her cellphone, to show up at work or at home, weren’t taken seriously.
The charge was that some in the Belton police department shrugged off her parents’ worries. She was assumed to be another disgruntled teen who would come home when she was good and ready. Media didn’t initially come running to tell the story either.
Kara’s family eventually moved toward thinking of their daughter in the past tense. They accepted that she is likely deceased. And began to push for a break in the case so that they could find her remains to mourn her through burial. And to find an assumed killer. All of this agony they’ve shared, stoically, with the public.
They deserve public recognition of the impact, the greater good that their love for Kara has inspired.
There is no way to know how many police officers think twice before dismissively assuming that a teenage girl has simply run away — because of Kara.
There’s no way to measure how many families have started difficult conversations with their teenage daughters, paying closer attention to the type of young men they choose to date — because of Kara.
There is no knowing how many young women may have realized that their boyfriend’s angry jealousy is not love, but a symptom of a potential abuser — because of Kara.
And it is highly likely that somewhere, a woman came to see that a boyfriend’s threats to strike her may not be idle and may not be where the abuse will end — because of Kara.
For a young woman who hasn’t been seen for nearly a decade, that’s a profound legacy.