KANSAS CITY, Mo. — To keep the honor a surprise, friends and family brought Mark Stephens to the Platte County Prosecutor’s Office’s 12th annual Crime Victims’ Rights Week ceremony.
“I would’ve dressed better if I’d known,” said Stephens, dressed in a button down shirt and jeans.
A longtime investigator with the Platte County Sheriff’s Office, Stephens received the Sara Andrasek Memorial Award — given each year to a person or group doing exceptional work to help victims of crime — at the end of an hour-long luncheon Friday, April 7 at the Platte County Resource Center. Platte County prosecuting attorney made the presentation for Stephens, first telling some humorous stories about him before also showing the importance of his local work.
Stephens worked as a reserve deputy with the Platte County Sheriff’s Office from 1991 to 1997 before becoming a fully commissioned deputy. In April of 2000, he transferred to the investigations unit for a long tenure, including a stint with the cyber crimes unit.
The time in investigations included a break where he worked as an investigator in Zahnd’s office. Stephens retired in January of this year.
“We could be here all day talking about the things this man has done for the people of Platte County,” said Zahnd, lauding Stephens for his help in developing Platte County’s cyber crimes unit into a national leader in the field. “I consider him not only an unbelievable investigator, but also, I’m proud to call him a friend.”
The Sara Andrasek Memorial Award is named in honor of a Platte County woman who was raped and murdered in 2001 while pregnant with her first child. The prosecution of suspect Wayne Dumond became Zahnd’s first major case, which he worked on after his election and prior to starting his first term in office more than 14 years earlier.
Dumond died in custody while facing multiple sexual and violent crime charges before Zahnd’s office could bring a death penalty case against the suspect.
Zahnd started the annual event — first a breakfast but changed to a luncheon in 2016 — to coincide with National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, which ran from Sunday, April 2 through Friday, April 7. This year’s theme was “Strength. Resilience. Justice,” reflecting a vision for the future in which all victims are strengthened by the response they receive, organizations are resilient in response to challenges and communities are able to seek collective justice and healing.
Craig Hill served as keynote speaker.
Retired after 35 years with the Leawood (Kan.) Police Department, Hill helped co-found the Lost Child Network — a non-profit child resource center in the Kansas City area. The group later merged with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and became the Kansas City office.
Hill spoke about his personal experiences resolving crimes involving lost or kidnapped children.
According to Hill’s stats, more than 400,000 children are reported missing in the United States each year. He continues to provide special training and education to law enforcement on how to deal with crimes involving missing children, hoping to increase response times and successful recoveries.
“This can happen anywhere to anyone,” Hill said. “I don’t know why. It’s very emotional for me. A little one comes into this world a gift, and somebody discards it like trash. We in law enforcement work hard to track and eliminate this threat, but it never seems to go away.
“I think our job is to make kids safer.”