(The names of members of the “Jensen” family have been changed to protect the identity of a survivor of sexual assault).
Tom Jensen’s wife called him the afternoon of April 2 and told him to check the news on his computer. She didn’t want him to get upset. But it was important that he see the story: Prairie Village teenager Kessler P. Lichtenegger was in Johnson County Jail on charges of rape and sex with a minor.
“I can remember it as clear as if it were right now,” Jensen said. “I was in my office, and I pulled it up, and the first thing I see is that face. The look on his face, in his eyes, it was chilling. I felt an actual chill down my spine.”
The eyes. It was thoughts of those eyes, Kessler Lichtenegger’s eyes, that had kept Tom’s daughter Anastasia up at night for months.
“She would say, ‘Every time I close my eyes, I see him looking at me,’” he said. “I thought, ‘Oh, God, there’s another family out there that has to go through what we went through.’”
Tom got out of his chair and headed outside. He needed to walk around. He needed fresh air. He had to try to calm down.
Because one of the things he’d worried about three years earlier had been another young girl falling victim to Lichtenegger.
On Sept. 1, 2011, hundreds of SM East students marched down Mission Road and gathered at the Village Shops for the annual Lancer Day parade and pep rally. Anastasia, a 15-year-old sophomore who was new at the school after having just moved with her family from the upper Midwest, told her parents she planned to attend the celebration, then come home. They expected her back by around 3:30 p.m.
Anastasia, who was adopted from the newly formed Russian Republic when she was 16 months old, had been diagnosed with a series of developmental disorders. Even though she was very high functioning, her parents fretted about her as she got acclimated to the new school environment. So when she hadn’t arrived by 4:30 p.m., they called the Prairie Village police. Tom started searching the neighborhood himself. Anastasia was nowhere to be found.
Then, just before dark, Tom recalls, an officer discovered Anastasia near the Windsor Park restrooms. She was in what Tom describes as a “catatonic state.” The officer called the Jensens to let them know their daughter had been located. He warned them she wasn’t in good shape.
When Tom arrived, he found his daughter with torn clothes, cuts on her knees and a fat lip.
“Who did this to you?” he asked.
The only response she could muster at first was tears.
Eventually she was able to utter a few words: “He hurt me. Why did he hurt me?”
The police interviewed Anastasia and gave her a preliminary exam at the Jensens’ house. They determined a trip the hospital for a full medical exam and evidence collection would be advisable. Over the next few weeks, Anastasia went to the Sunflower House child abuse prevention center in Shawnee to answer investigators’ questions about the attack. Anastasia told them she had skipped the Lancer Day festivities and walked to the park with Kessler Lichtenegger, then a 14-year-old SM East freshman. Lichtenegger began making unwanted sexual advances toward her, according to the Jensen family’s account of the incident. Anastasia told investigators that when she tried to fend him off, he punched her and pushed her into the bushes.
Many of the details of what happened that day are sealed with the criminal case against Lichtenegger that went through the juvenile justice system. But new criminal documents as well as documents from a civil suit filed more than a year later by the Jensens against Lichtenegger’s parents corroborate Tom Jensen’s assertion that Lichtenegger had already faced a series of sexual misconduct accusations before he was arrested last month and charged with six new counts, including rape and aggravated criminal sodomy with a child younger than 14.
In the civil suit, which the Jensens filed against Lichtenegger’s parents in 2013, the Jensens’ attorney claimed that prior to the attack on Anastasia, Lichtenegger (referred to as “K.L.” in the document) “had sexually assaulted at least one girl such that Defendants knew or should have known of his propensity to commit such acts and his need for supervision.” The suit said Lichtenegger had “exhibited behaviors to Defendants that should have alerted them of his propensity to sexually assault young girls…” The Lichteneggers denied both claims in their response. The Jensens later dropped the civil suit after encountering difficulties seeking monetary damages through the Lichtenegger’s insurance company.
Prosecutors eventually charged Lichtenegger with a series of crimes after the Sept. 1, 2011 attack.
But the involvement of the courts was little comfort to the Jensen family. Tom said what followed in the weeks and months after the attack was a living nightmare. Anastasia sunk into a deep depression and required institutionalization. The family worried about the emotional toll it would take to have her testify against Lichtenegger in court. Working with prosecutors, they consented to having the charges against him reduced if he agreed to plead guilty, avoiding the necessity for Anastasia to take the stand.
On April 24, 2012, Lichtenegger pleaded guilty to charges of two counts of lewd and lascivious behavior and one count of battery, according to the state’s motion for Lichtenegger to be tried as an adult for the most recent charges.
At Lichtenegger’s sentencing hearing in 2012, Tom read the following statement of impact:
“Kessler had no right to inflict this upon anyone. To this very moment, I cannot comprehend how a boy can get to the point Kessler finds himself now. The only positive thing that I can see come out of this is the fact had [Anastasia] not decided to tell her story to the authorities, Kessler’s other victim most likely would still be suffering from his abuse.
Kessler is no longer a young man, a teenager enjoying his high school years, a band member, a loving member of his family, or a big brother. His actions destroyed all that and he now finds himself at a cross road in his life that very few people approach. This criminal will now have to make a choice between the easy road, where he (with the enabling of others) will try to make all this go away. This choice will most likely end in tragedy for Kessler and those near to him. Or, he can choose the hard road (with the help and support of others) where he understands he has to make right that which he has made wrong.”
Unfortunately, Tom says, his prediction about what could happen if Lichtenegger and “his enablers” chose the easy road looks to have panned out. And another tragedy appears to be the result.
(A request for comment from the Lichteneggers submitted via Kessler’s defense attorney Tuesday has not been returned).
Now, Tom can’t help but wonder whether the policies dictating how public schools are required to handle minor offenders, and insurance laws that protect that parents of such minors from legal actions, may have contributed to enabling Lichtenegger’s alleged new crimes.
Tomorrow, we’ll examine the struggle the Jensens faced as they tried to get Anastasia back to a normal life at SM East – the school Anastasia’s assailant continued to attend despite her no contact order against him.
Additional reporting by Dan Blom.