http://www.kansas.com/457/story/91466.htmlPolice consider possible links between missing Belton teen and slain teen
By MARIA SUDEKUM FISHER
Associated Press Writerhttp://www.findkarakopetsky.com
BELTON, Mo. - Authorities investigating the murder of Kelsey Smith, the 18-year-old woman who was abducted from a Target store parking lot and found dead three days later, have also been looking into the disappearance of a Belton teenager who was last seen more than a month ago.
No link has been established between the disappearance of Smith and that of Kara Kopetsky, 17, who was last seen at Belton High School, blocks from her home, on the morning of May 4.
But Belton police Capt. Don Spears said two Belton detectives are assigned to work with investigators on the Smith case.
He said Belton police were examining evidence at the home of Edwin R. Hall, 26, who was charged Thursday with kidnap and murder in Smith's death and is being held on $5 million bond. Belton police were also considering an additional search of the wooded area where Smith's body was found, which is about six miles north of Kopetsky's home.
Smith and Kopetsky did not know each other and did not have any friends in common, Spears said.
He said his office has received about 25 new tips on Kopetsky's disappearance since Monday, two days after Smith was abducted from the Target parking lot. None of those tips have been helpful, however.
John Douglass, chief of police in Overland Park, where Smith's abduction took place, said this week he "would not discount the possibility" that the Smith and Kopetsky cases were connected.
"We are working with the Belton police and certain representatives from the Missouri side," Douglass said. The departments would look at the evidence in both cases "from every single possible fashion," but so far there was no connection.
Authorities working the Smith case received more than 500 leads between Saturday, when Smith was abducted, and Wednesday, when her body was found. Spears attributed much of that attention to the video images caught on Target's surveillance cameras, which showed Smith entering and leaving Target, as well as images of what appeared to be a struggle at her car before the car left the parking lot.
More than 50 detectives were assigned to the Smith case. Spears said that when a lead comes in about the Kopetsky case, he assigns "six or seven" detectives to investigate.
"We didn't have evidence that she was abducted, and we didn't have surveillance video like in the Smith case," Spears said. "We're concerned. There's nothing to indicate she's a runaway. And there's nothing to establish she was abducted. But it's possible she was abducted."
When investigators in the Smith case announced Wednesday that a body had been found in Longview Lake Park, Kopetsky's parents, Jim and Rhonda Beckford, waited nervously until Spears told them the body was that of Smith, and not Kara's.
"Sitting here, a month later, and then you see somebody that has the same physical characteristics and not less than 30 minutes apart in distance wise and you start associating things," said Jim Beckford, Kara's stepfather. "We didn't have the resources and the video tape, and we didn't have proof that Kara was abducted."
Beckford also noted that his stepdaughter disappeared the same day a tornado struck Greensburg, Kan. The story dominated media coverage in the area.
Spears said most media didn't give Kopetsky's disappearance the attention he thought it warranted.
Kopetsky is about 5 feet 5 inches tall and 125 pounds, with brown hair and hazel eyes. Smith was 5 feet 6 inches tall and 120 pounds with long brown hair and brown eyes.
The Beckfords said Kara had called the morning she disappeared asking her mother to wash her work clothes because she had to be at work at 4 p.m.
She also left behind her debit card. Her checking account has not been touched. No calls had been placed on her cell phone since the morning she disappeared, so her phone records were no help, unlike the Smith case, where police were able to track signals from her phone to the general area where her body was found.
"I'm trying to clear up confusion that she was a runaway," Mrs. Beckford said. "We had not argued. She had no reason not to come home. ... We had normal teenager parent conflicts, but we were always able to talk it out."
There was a report that Kopetsky may have been seen at a fast food restaurant in Louisburg, Kan., on May 17. A composite photo of a man who was possibly with her was released soon afterward. The Beckfords didn't recognize the man.
"That morning was a really bad day, and I was feeling down," Mrs. Beckford said. "It brought my hope back. But I would have felt a lot better if there was surveillance (cameras) and we could have seen whether it was her or not, because now we have no idea."