The Ali Kemp murder
Seven years after Ali Kemp’s murder, her father works to protect women everywhere
By JENNIFER BHARGAVA
The Kansas City Star
Posted on Sat, Nov. 28, 2009 10:15 PM
Roger Kemp knew he couldn’t always be there to protect his little girl.
But it never occurred to him that one day she might not be able to protect herself.
He held his only daughter, Ali, in his arms seven years ago. Her once-vivacious face was pale and lifeless. The college student had been strangled by a stranger on a June afternoon during her duties as a lifeguard at a neighborhood pool in Leawood.
“I want girls to realize that attacks don’t just happen to other people,” said Roger Kemp, whose daughter, Ali (portrait at left), was killed in 2002.
Her father was the one to find her.
Nothing could prepare him for that moment. Nothing could prepare him for the blinding pain that would haunt him afterward. But within weeks of her murder, he knew one thing for certain: he didn’t want the same thing to happen to any other girl.
“No one wakes up in the morning knowing they are going to be murdered today,” Kemp said. “There are people out there who don’t care that you have hopes, goals, aspirations and dreams. Women need to know how to defend themselves in case they come across the wrong person.”
A friend introduced him to Jill Leiker, a martial-arts expert. Together, they created a free two-hour self-defense course, T.A.K.E. Defense, which teaches girls and women safety awareness and self-defense. It was established in partnership with the Johnson County Park and Recreation District.
Twenty women attended the first class in January 2005. Almost five years and hundreds of classes later, the program has helped more than 36,000 girls and women and has been conducted at schools nationwide.
“I can’t believe Roger has done what he’s done,” Leiker said. “He’s changed so many lives forever. He’s one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.”
Middle-schoolers to grandmothers have taken the courses, some even writing Kemp letters on how the course saved their lives.
“If I can save at least one girl’s life out there, all this was worth it,” Kemp said. “I want girls to realize that attacks don’t just happen to other people. You read about senseless tragedies in the newspaper all the time, and those girls never thought it could happen to them either.”
Besides helping women help themselves, he also had another quest: to find his daughter’s killer.
Using a police sketch of the suspect, he placed posters at stores around the Kansas City area. He told his story on “America’s Most Wanted.” But it wasn’t enough.
Six months after his daughter’s death, Kemp was driving down Interstate 435 when he saw a billboard and imagined one as a giant “wanted” poster. He took his idea to Bob Fessler, the vice president and general manager for Lamar Outdoor Advertising.
The executive admitted he was a little nervous about the idea at first. After all, it had never been done before. Soon, a police sketch of the suspect, his vehicle, and a TIPS Hotline number loomed above highways from four donated billboards in the Kansas City area.
In the fall of 2004, the billboard did its job. Police received a tip from a person who saw the billboard and said that the alleged killer, Benjamin Appleby, had fled to the East Coast.
“When we got the phone call he’d been caught, I was just blown away,” Fessler said. “For someone to see one of our billboards and know the suspect was in Connecticut is amazing. I mean, that’s just incredible.”
In 2006, Appleby was sentenced to life in prison.
Finding and prosecuting the killer was a relief for Kemp but simply not enough. He can still feel his adoring daughter in his arms. He remembers begging her to come back. Nobody can erase that pain.
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