Deputy first to arrive at gruesome murder recounts dying teen's last words

Published: Jun. 4, 2018 at 10:06 AM CDT
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The 2009 Thanksgiving weekend is one those in Burlingame won’t soon forget.

It was nine years ago in November when James Kahler drove to this quiet community and shot his estranged wife, her grandmother, and his two daughters - killing all four.

“The biggest thing for me, that I have no answer for is how can a father do that to his children. He literally had to chase one of his daughters through the house,” said Osage Co. Deputy Sheriff Nathan Purling.

Purling was first to arrive at one of the most horrific crimes Osage County has ever seen.

This father of three says his shift on Saturday, November 28, 2009, started out like any other.

“I was doing paperwork here at the office when a call came in about a suspicious vehicle in Burlingame,” said Purling.

That was around 6:15 p.m. About a minute later, while Purling was en route to the scene, another call came over the radio. This time, a report from life alert about a shooting at the same address.

“I went up to the house to see if I was at the right place for whatever was happening and that’s when I could see Dorothy from the front porch window," he said.

Purling cautiously made his way inside to only find Dorothy Wight, covered in blood and clinging to life.

He then spotted Karen Kahler on the floor in the dining room and went over to check her for a pulse.

“At the same time, I could hear somebody crying for help,” said Purling.

That was 16-year-old Lauren Kahler, who was shot in an upstairs bedroom.

Purling would stay by Lauren’s side until the paramedics arrived. In her last words, the mortally wounded teen told Purling that it was her father that opened fire.

Prosecutors say James Kahler was upset that his wife had filed for divorce and was in a new relationship. He used a .223 caliber rifle to shoot Karen, his two daughters Emily and Lauren, and his wife’s grandmother Dorothy. All died from their injuries.

Kahler was found in southern Shawnee County the following day.

In 2011, it took an Osage County Jury just two hours to find him guilty on all four capital murder charges.

James Kraig Kahler is currently one of nine people in Kansas sitting on death row.

Purling’s testimony at the trial all but sealed the deal for his conviction.

“It will be nine years this year and I can still hear her voice as clearly as ever and I can smell the smells of that house -- the gunshot residue and other stuff as if it were happening just now,” he said.

“What he saw is what most people should never have to see in a lifetime. What went on there that day, he was instrumental of being there quickly and doing his best to try and save a life,” said Osage Co. Sheriff Laurie Dunn.

In between stints with Emporia PD and time in the military, Purling has been with the Osage County Sheriff’s Office for a total of 15 years.

While the emotional toll of working a tragedy like the Kahler murders might make anyone consider a different career path, Purling’s commitment to the people of Osage County has only gotten stronger.

“Nathan’s been one that has enjoyed being employed in Osage County. As we see, you leave for greener pasture and he’s come back realizing that it’s okay being here,” said Dunn.

“We have 740 square miles in Osage County and I get to see all of it. I love Osage County.”