Sunday 18 February 2018

Rash of unsolved murders puts people on edge in Anchorage

Police search Valley of the Moon Park, where two people were found dead last weekend (AP)
Police search Valley of the Moon Park, where two people were found dead last weekend (AP)

A rash of unsolved murders in Alaska's largest city is putting residents on edge.

The deaths of nine people who were killed on Anchorage's outdoor trails, parks and isolated streets since January remain unsolved - among them three cases involving two victims each.

"It's terrifying," said Jennifer Hazen, who lives near Valley of the Moon Park, where two people were found dead last week, one of them on a park bike trail.

Hazen walks in the park regularly, and finds some comfort in knowing the unsolved killings happened in the middle of the night when she would not be out there anyway.

"I'm just really shocked about all this happening," said another resident, Yegor Christman, as he walked his dog on the bike trail. "I thought I lived in a pretty safe area."

Adding to the feeling of vulnerability, Anchorage has had 25 killings this year, the same number the city had for the entire year in 2015.

Even though the number is high, police point out that 1995, with 29 killings, had the highest number in the last two decades.

With 15 murders since late June, police issued an unusual public advisory this week urging residents to be "extra aware" of their surroundings, noting that crimes often increase at night and early in the morning.

Three of the victims were found alone. Two of those victims had been shot, according to police, who will not say how the other seven died. They will not say what details have been shared with the families of the victims.

Police have released few details on any of the cases, saying investigators have not made any clear connections between the victims. Asked if police believe a serial killer could be on the loose, police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said police always try to determine if unsolved crimes are related.

The only common denominators found among the victims are that the deaths occurred outdoors, in the early hours and in isolated places such as trails and unoccupied streets.

John McCleary is a long-time volunteer with the city's Trail Watch programme, which was started in 2006 after a string of assaults, mostly against women, on local trails.

Trail Watch volunteers serve two purposes, to be the eyes for the police department, reporting any problems, and to create safer conditions on 300 miles of trails with such efforts as cutting down vegetation.

But McCleary said he has never seen a situation with so many unsolved killings, and he has been connected with city trails since the late 1970s. He says he feels angry and frustrated that people cannot enjoy the trails like they could a decade ago.

"This is so abnormal," he said. "It doesn't seem like I'm in the same city."

Randall Alcala walks almost daily along the central Ship Creek Trail, where two victims were found dead in July. But those deaths, even though unsolved, do not make him feel unsafe.

He saw a black bear on the trail about a week ago, and is more wary of run-ins with one of the city's hundreds of bears.


Press Association

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