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Press Release

Rasta, Court Therapy Dog, Honored for Service to Children

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Missouri
Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award Presented During National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, April 21-27
U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore presented the award to Rasta and his owner, Jennifer Vernon.
U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore presents the annual Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award to Rasta, a courtroom therapy dog, and the golden retriever’s handler and owner, Jennifer Vernon.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Teresa Moore, United State Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, presented the annual Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award today to Rasta, a courtroom therapy dog, and the golden retriever’s handler and owner, Jennifer Vernon.

The award, presented annually during National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (April 21 to 27), honors the memories of Ali Kemp and Crystal Kipper, both of whom were fatal victims of tragic crimes. This is the 20th year for the award, which recognizes the outstanding work of an individual or organization in recognition of a valued contribution to preventing and responding to the exploitation of children.

“Every dog lover has had the experience of being comforted by their devoted canine friend,” Moore said. “This year we are recognizing Rasta’s invaluable contribution of a calming influence for traumatized children during stressful, sometimes intimidating, legal proceedings. By helping to reduce the anxiety of these vulnerable victims, Rasta contributes to our goal of achieving justice for them. And by presenting Rasta with this award, we hope to encourage the use of court therapy dogs in more settings.”

Tina Sutter, a victim-witness coordinator with the U.S. Attorney's Office, treats Rasta to a cupcake.
Tina Sutter, a victim-witness coordinator with the U.S. Attorney's Office, treats Rasta to a cupcake following the award presentation.

Rasta provides emotional support to help young victims and witnesses speak up to describe truthfully and accurately what happened to them. The scientific evidence for the physical and mental calming effects of appropriately bred and trained dogs is overwhelming, according to the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, and includes both physical and psychological effects.

Rasta, a trained therapy dog, originally worked in hospice as well as working alongside Vernon, the Director of Child, Youth and Family Clinical Services at Synergy Services, Inc. Rasta has provided comfort to children at Synergy who experienced trauma, to homeless and traumatized teens, and even to the adult staff at Synergy. In 2019, following some additional training, Rasta went into the courtroom for the first time. He sat in the witness box with a teen abuse survivor during his first trial experience in Platte County Circuit Court.

Since then, said Vernon, Rasta has worked at more trials, depositions, and other hearings. Sometimes he is present to provide comfort to survivors before and after testimony.

Moore presented the Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Award alongside Anna Kipper Rea, the mother of Crystal Kipper, and Jill and Bob Leiker of the Ali Kemp Educational Foundation, an organization founded by the late Roger Kemp, the father of Ali Kemp.

The theme for the 2024 Crime Victims’ Rights week is “How would you help? Options, services, and hope for crime survivors.” There is a focus on creating safe environments for crime victims to share what happened to them and offer support, options for life-saving services, and most importantly, hope.

The Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award

This is the 20th year for the award to be presented in memory of Crystal Kipper and Ali Kemp, two young women who were both fatal victims of tragic crimes. Crystal Kipper was an 18-year-old Gladstone, Mo., resident who was murdered after her car ran out of gas on Interstate 29, just north of Platte City, on Feb. 24, 1997. Ali Kemp was a 19-year-old Blue Valley North High School graduate who was murdered on June 18, 2002, while she worked at the Foxborough neighborhood swimming pool in Leawood, Kan.

U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore poses with Rasta and friends.
U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore (center) with Rasta and Jennifer Vernon following the presentation of the annual Crystal Kipper & Ali Kemp Memorial Award. Moore presented the award alongside Anna Kipper Rea (with her husband, Mark), the mother of Crystal Kipper, and Jill and Bob Leiker of the Ali Kemp Educational Foundation, an organization founded by the late Roger Kemp, the father of Ali Kemp, whose son Tyler Kemp is also pictured.
Updated April 22, 2024

Topic
Community Outreach