Hardin residents organizing for safety fix after toddler is hit by train

Published: May. 31, 2023 at 10:33 PM CDT
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HARDIN, Mo. (KCTV) - Less than three weeks have passed since a toddler was killed on BNSF train tracks in a small town an hour northeast of Kansas City.

Many in the town are still grieving, but they took the first steps toward turning their tears into change this week.

Jared Shepard is a city council member in Hardin, Missouri, but when he stood before a crowd at city hall Wednesday night, he made it clear he wasn’t there as a council member. He was among many bereft by the death of 22-month-old Harper and determined to do something to keep it from happening to other kids.

He wants to see fencing installed along the train tracks that run past homes in the town of 500 people.

“We need ideas,” he told them. “We need loud voices.”

At least 50 people packed the small city hall chambers with children in tow and babies in their arms.

Trains pass through town frequently. KCTV5 saw two come through in just 10 minutes by the home of the little girl. The family asked that we not use her last name due to threatening remarks left on social media blaming them.

Harper didn’t wander far that Saturday morning.

“These live tracks are less than 50 yards away from our front porch, as it was for Harper’s home,” said neighbor Jodie Brown. “Our front yard is the train tracks.”

“Everybody around here has got children and grandchildren,” Shepard told the crowd. “It needs to happen. It should have happened a long time ago.”

The mayor was there, as were other city council members, firefighters and paramedics.

Shepard wanted to get a committee organized to push for the project and eventually for a state law requiring fencing. He had commitments from some local companies to donate material and laborers for 1.5 miles of fencing. He’d been in contact with railroad personnel. They need to be involved for it to be installed on their easement. The city would need to enter into a contract. There are a lot of moving parts.

Ray County Sheriff Scott Childers announced that he just heard from a state lawmaker who told him the railroad is taking notice.

“The way it was described to me is the railroad is doing some feasibility studies in this area,” Childers said.

He was not prepared to name the lawmaker but said he was advised the best approach would be to start small, focusing on voluntary projects in Hardin and the nearby town of Orrick over any statewide mandate.

“I do feel like it can be done. I feel like the fact that we’ve got such a tragedy here, and not only did it affect the family and the people that live here, but also, when we worked the case, those conductors,” Childers said. “It’s their own people.”

Brown read a letter written by Harper’s parents. It concluded with a message for the conductor on the train that hit Harper.

“We want to thank you for trying your damnedest to stop,” she read. “And know that we are not mad or upset with you. And if you ever need anything and want to know anything about Harper, you can reach out to us. We will always be here with open arms and are truly praying for you and for your family, as well.”

“There’s a lot of support, but there’s a lot of people that don’t think it’s possible,” Shepard said. “You just have to show them that it is possible.”

He told the audience anyone interested in being on the committee needed to prepare for a commitment of at least a year, possibly longer. Twenty people stepped up to the challenge.