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Abducted from Walmart in Mukwonago, woman recounts terrifying ride, how she escaped

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EAST TROY -- She was threatened at gunpoint -- forced into a car against her will. Her kidnapping triggered a statewide manhunt for Mitchell Owens -- accused of taking the woman from the Walmart store in Mukwonago and heading for Eau Claire County. The woman was able to escape, and Owens eventually took his own life. Karol Klei spoke with FOX6 News exclusively, as she geared up to head back to work for the first time since the terrifying ordeal.

Karol Klei

Karol Klei

Three weeks after she was kidnapped, Karol Klei was back in East Troy, getting ready to head back to work at the Walmart store in Mukwonago.

It was her first time back to work since June 8th.

“It was just a normal day at work. I went to take my lunch and I saw a car pull up on the side lot.  I heard someone get out and I looked up and that’s when I saw someone with a gun, but I didn’t recognize who it was at first.  It wasn’t until he spoke that I knew who it was," Klei said.

Mitchell Owens

Mitchell Owens

It was 24-year-old Mitchell Owens of Burlington, a former co-worker and friend of Karol’s.

“He was telling me ‘Karol get in the car!' I didn’t want to run because I knew if I’d run he would probably shoot me in the back," Klei said.

So Klei got in the car and tried to stay calm.

“He kept telling me he wants to head west and take me to the mountains -- and saying like, this was the only way that we could be together is for him to take me out of here," Klei said.

Klei was obviously terrified, but she tried not to show it.

“I didn’t know if I was going to die, but if there was a chance of getting away I wanted stuff to be able to tell the cops,” Klei said.

Suspect in Mukwonago abduction case

Suspect in Mukwonago abduction case

A criminal complaint filed against Owens in this case says Klei told investigators Owens kept the gun primarily between his legs during the car ride. She also stated that Owens had a "long machete and pocket knife" in his belt along with what she described as a "survival kit" in the backseat of the car. The complaint also indicates Owens stated that "'cops might shoot him' because he had kidnapped (the victim)."

As they drove, Klei started asking Owens basic questions about his car and how he was doing.  It had been a year since she last saw or heard from him.

She says Owens never took her phone, but he did tell her to keep it away. She says she was able to access her phone by keeping it on her side with her legs crossed. She says she kept calling her boyfriend.

Klei says she even tried getting the attention of other drivers.

“I would turn my face facing out the window and kind of have my mouth covered. I would mouth either ‘call 911’ or ‘help me,'" Klei said.

No one noticed.

Meanwhile, the drive continued, with the gun in between Owens' legs.

FOX6's Stephanie Grady: "Were you thinking 'maybe I should grab the gun if the opportunity presents itself?'"

"He never let that opportunity come up -- ever," Klei said.

Klei says it felt like they had spent an eternity in the car. But soon, they had to stop for gas.

At a Kwik Trip gas station in Eau Claire, just as police were getting a cell phone tower ping for Klei's cell phone from the Eau Claire area, Klei made the decision to run.

“I was like, ‘yeah, you can go inside and get me some stuff.' I figured this is my only chance I have to get away," Klei said.

As soon as Owens was inside the gas station, Klei made a run for it.  The first person she asked for help refused.  So she ran to the side of the building where some construction workers were hanging out.

“I saw a guy on his phone and I said the same thing ‘help me. Help me. I’m going to die.  This guy has a gun. He’s going to kill me.  I’m kidnapped.' Right away he helped me.  He told me to get in his truck," Klei said.

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Klei never saw Owens again.

Owens was able to elude police — speeding off from the gas station and heading toward Olson Drive. A pursuit ensued -- and the complaint indicates "speeds reached as high as 100 miles per hour." Though Owens’ vehicle was disabled by stop sticks, he was able to flee the vehicle and run off into the woods.

Manhunt in Eau Claire Co. (Credit: WEAU-TV)

Manhunt in Eau Claire Co. (Credit: WEAU-TV)

Owens may have fired his weapon soon after he escaped into the woods.

A massive manhunt was then underway. More than 200 officers were part of the search for Owens, as was a helicopter, a DNR plane with night-vision capabilities and a K9 unit combing the woods.

Eau Claire search for Mitchell Owens

Eau Claire search for Mitchell Owens

He was found more than 24 hours after the abduction in Mukwonago. He had taken his own life.

“I never had any hate towards Mitch ever. I was never mad at him for what he did. I knew that he had a lot of problems," Klei said.

Karol Klei

Karol Klei

Today, Klei says she still has trouble sleeping and being alone, but she has a great support system of family and friends.  She told FOX6 she was very nervous about returning to work.

There is at least one more loose end Klei would like tied up. She wants to thank the man who saved her life at that Kwik Trip gas station in Eau Claire.

“I’m trying to get the guts to call him and thank him. He wants to remain anonymous which is totally fine, but yes I cannot thank him enough and neither can my family and friends -- so thank you very much," Klei said.

Klei believes Owens had been stalking her for quite some time before the kidnapping.  She wants to take Martial Arts classes so she can learn how to better protect and defend herself.

Walmart in Mukwonago

Walmart in Mukwonago

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  • therefreshman

    So…he kidnaps her at gunpoint, takes her four hours away and intends to take her “into the mountains” because “it’s the only way we can be together,” carries a machete and knives, and he’s “a quiet awesome guy?” Being “raised right” does not guarantee a “good person.” This man committed criminal acts,and you’re excusing him. Someone cheating on you (if that’s indeed what happened) is not an excuse for holding them against their will at gunpoint. Blaming her only makes you think you have absolved him. The facts show otherwise. Committing suicide is not “dying for someone.” Please reflect on that.

  • James

    I’m so sorry about your loss. However, let’s not blame the victim. He made a choice, a bad and wrong choice. My first relationship of 2.5 years ended when she cheated on me with a guy I worked with so I know how it feels. But I would never have forced her in my vehicle at gun point. It is not your fault, it’s not her fault. I’m sorry this happened to your family. Try to hold on to the good memories. I know it’s tough when this is still newsworthy but that’s what happens in a small town like this. You just have to ignore the media for awhile, which is hard sometimes. But you didn’t do anything wrong, but there is no excuse for what he did. I’m sorry but he was an adult and accountable for his own actions. We need to stop this victim blaming because what you are implying is that same excuses people give to rapists(she was asking for it, she deserves it, boys will be boys, blah blah blah) and not giving him any autonomy, that he was weak. Cheating can drive a person crazy, I know. I lost 55lbs in a month after what happened to me. You’ve got to stop making excuses for him because no matter what, what he did was wrong. He knew that. But now you and your family have to live with it and that’s really really hard. I’m so sorry and I wish you all the peace.

  • J

    Sorry for your loss but in the end he was a dangerous criminal. There is no such thing as closure. I have lost family, co-workers and friends to suicide. Some by gunfire. Very sad but they didn’t try to take anyone hostage. Put yourself in the place of the SWAT teams who had to go out in the woods to try and fine him…no knowing if he was going to shoot them as soon as they deployed from the armored personnel vehicles. Not a good feeling. I know.

  • Anita

    Your not being realistic. Karol never dated him. He became friends with all my daughters who worked there, but he became infatuated with my youngest daughter Karol. He thought in his own mind that there was a relationship with Karol. This is nothing new we hear about it all the time, girls/women who break-up with their boyfriend…either they kidnap the girl/woman because they are not ready to break-off the relationship or the guy takes his own life. However, no matter how tragic the ending ends up to be, one cannot force a person to stay in a relationship that doesn’t work out. People are getting divorce everyday because relationships don’t work out, and even in these cases there are tragic endings because either the husband or wife cannot face reality. A lot of times the ending of a divorce ends tragically where there are children involved.
    Just to reiterate, Karol never dated your son. I am very angry that Mitch pointed a gun to force Karol to go with him, however since I realized he couldn’t deal with his feelings and became depressed, I don’t hold any animosity towards him. I wished it would have ended differently.
    I own all my thanks to God first for His mercy and protecting Karol. We could sit around all day dwelling on might have happened since we found out that Mitch not only had a gun but knives, but sitting on speculation would not allow us to move forward.
    Again as Christians, we do not hold any animosity towards the family or Mitch. I only wish that he would have gotten help to get over his feelings that he couldn’t deal with.

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