Iowa City

Six times a year, Tradeshow Productions owner Daryl Klein sponsors a gun show at Hawkeye Downs. Sellers rent booths from him in order to hawk their handguns, rifles and etc. to the background-check approved masses over a few days. Although two Iowa teens have been charged with stealing guns from the event in January, it’s not too often that illegal transactions go on inside his events, Klein said.

“We have strict rules we need to follow,” he said. “I will not allow vendors who have been found selling guns without the proper background checks to sell at my shows…and our security measures are tough.”

There are off-duty police officers and sheriff’s deputies who check every weapon that comes in the door to make sure they’re unloaded, also checking weapons on the way out. Exhibitors use their own methods to secure their weapons, he said, whether that’s by connecting them all with a cord or rope, or putting them inside a glass case. Tyler Carter and Ethan Johnston just “got lucky” when they ran out the door with their stolen guns, Klein said.

“The vendor’s table was right next to the door, and they must have just taken off running,” he said.

But, alas, their plan was faulty. In their haste, they didn’t realize one of the guns was missing a clip. So they took a chance when they returned the next time to ask for a clip for one of the stolen guns. The woman recognized them and pointed them out to security officers. They were searched, and officers found MORE stolen goods on them from the show. That time, security worked like it was supposed to, Klein said.

The people who attend the gun shows are looking for hunting weapons or handguns and pistols for concealed carrying or target practice, he said — the shows are NOT conduits for illegal sales. I, for one, appreciate that. Bureau of Justice statistics suggest that at least 1/3 of gun crimes involve stolen guns. Interestingly enough, they also say juvenile offenders are more likely to have guns than adults. Hm.


I managed to get Gazette reporter Jennifer Hemmingsen on the phone for a few minutes today to talk about how the Iowa City bureau is dealing with the Sueppel family murders.

Jennifer Hemmingsen

Q: How did your reporting and editing team decide to approach this story initially?

A: Editor Lyle Muller was like the “sergeant.” He planted me at the Sueppel’s house, and I stayed there from 8 to 5. I took one bathroom break when videographer got here. Megan Ver Helst went to the car crash on Interstate 80, and Gregg Hennigan stayed in the office making tons of phone calls and gathering information. Diane Heldt covered things from the University and Iowa City schools’ angle.

Q: What did you think when you first heard about the murders? How did that help shape your coverage?

A: It’s horrifying, especially when kids are involved and when people are so obviously innocent. At first, people didn’t know if they were safe because of the “active shooter” alert, so we had to work as hard as we possibly could so people could make decisions like ‘Am I going to take my kids to school today?’ I think we did a really important job. In times of crisis, we are the only source of information. People want to try to figure out what is happening and why. People care about this sort of thing. And there are so many rumors, people need someone vetting the information and printing only the stuff that’s verified. We are the only people out there sifting facts from rumor.

Q: What rumors have been really tough for you to dispel?

A: Steven Sueppel’s alleged drug use — that was NEVER substantiated by police. As a matter of fact, he recanted that statement in following interviews, and no proof was found of drug use. No drugs were found in the home during a search after the murders. He was not just some hopped-up cocaine guy who just appeared to be a perfect dad. Also, Steven Sueppel didn’t have a history of violent behavior. He doesn’t have a prior record, and no one could find any evidence that he ever threatened to hurt his family before. According to police, this just came out of nowhere.

Q:How did covering this murder affect you? 

A:To know it was someone who was supposed to protect them and love them, that was really hard. A long time ago, when I was working in Minnesota, I covered the murder of an 18-month-old, raped and murdered by a babysitter. My daughter was the same age and I had babysitters, it really freaked me out. I cried. It was the first time I understood that things can happen, apparently for no reason, and they happen to people like me. Now have covered almost 10 murders, and all kinds of crazy sexual and physical abuse. I would feel a lot better if these things didn’t happen, but it’s important for people to know. I think about all the people who were there, who saw it, the emergency responders and police. My job is just sort of to be a professional witness. We give people a cleaned-up version of events.

Q:Why did this case get so much attention?

A: A few people have pointed out that this has gotten so much more attention than other murder-suicides in Iowa, I think that’s a good point. There was one not so long ago by Riverside that didn’t get nearly as much attention. I don’t know the stats, but its been said that if the victims were well-off, white and well-known, people seem to care more. As for this situation, Steven Sueppel was already in the news because of his embezzlement charges, there were children involved and so many people knew who they were. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong to treat each instance differently, but it happens.

Q: What were some of your concerns about covering the murders?

A: There were a lot of media on this story from Des Moines, the Quad Cities, even national reporters. There were at least six live trucks at the house, it was a bit of a circus. You are out there with a bunch of other reporters trying to find out information that people really want to know, but you feel like a heel because you might be the 30th person to knock on a neighbor’s door. You just have to try to be respectful and give them a chance to say something if they want. You know you are there at one of the worst moments of people’s lives asking them to talk about it. If it wasn’t them, they’d be interested in reading it because that personal element is what makes the story real. I don’t know if people think we think about it. It’s because you think it’s important. I don’t want to win a Pulitzer for this stuff, I just want it to serve a purpose.

Q: Any last thoughts?

A: We are just trying to keep thinking of the questions people are asking that we haven’t answered yet. But are we ever going to know what was going on inside his head before he killed them? It’s not likely. I don’t know if there is always a reason why things happen. Maybe there’s a combination of reasons. We might never know.

Unfortunately, the hatemongers of Westboro Baptist Church have decided to picket the Sueppel family’s funeral. You’ve probably heard of them. Apparently protesting at events that honor gays and lesbians– even soldiers’ funerals — has become passe for Fred Phelps and his sheep.

See the church’s flier advertising the picket here. I’ll warn you right now, it’s disgusting. But it’s typical of their asinine propaganda.

I went to talk to some of the picketers from the Topeka, Kan., church when I was a junior at Iowa State. You can read my column about the experience here.

I’m not going to waste any more space in my blog on these morons.

UPDATE: They decided not to show. Good for them.

I actually played a very small role in the coverage of the woman and her four children found dead in Iowa City on Monday. We had three Iowa City bureau reporters, three photographers and two editors who spent a majority of their day making sure The Gazette had the latest information to present about the murders in an accurate and fair manner. I was assigned to write a related story, which hasn’t been printed yet.

When these things happen, they are so shocking to the community, so tragic to the family involved, that we as journalists have to take a step back and realize the impact our coverage will have on not only those close to the victims but the entire region. It requires a quick mind to connect the dots and a kind heart full of respect and sympathy — both of which my colleagues who are working on the story have in abundance. That’s why The Gazette has the most complete coverage, to give the community a fuller picture of the events unfolding in front of them.

It’s also why Jennifer Hemmingsen and Gregg Hennigan were interview by national media about what they knew. I hope to bring you more Tuesday about how they are covering the evolving story of the Sueppel family’s deaths. Let me know what you want to see.