Alaska State Troopers say the death of Mackenzie Howard, 13, is being investigated as a homicide Thursday, as the Southeast village of Kake comes together after the discovery of her body at a local church Tuesday night.
AST spokesperson Beth Ipsen says Howard's body is being flown to Anchorage for an autopsy by state medical examiners Thursday. She refused to go into specifics on why troopers now consider the case a homicide, but says what troopers have found has led them to believe Howard died at the hands of another person.
"We're still at the beginning of this," Ipsen said. "We still have more people to interview, we still have more evidence to collect and process. So like I said, it's just the beginning of it."
In an email sent shortly after speaking with Channel 2, Ipsen says while troopers believe Howard's death was a homicide pending confirmation by the autopsy results, it has not been classified as a murder.
"A homicide and murder are two entirely different things," Ipsen wrote. "We just were able to rule out that she killed herself or died due to an accident. It’s a matter of process of elimination."
Two members of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation are currently in Kake, as well as a patrol trooper from Juneau.
Kake's city hall was closed as of noon Thursday, with local administrators saying the closure will last for several days because Howard's death is affecting all Kake residents.
According to an AST dispatch late Wednesday, Howard was found dead at the local Memorial Presbyterian Church. Troopers initially received a report at about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday that a resident discovered Howard's body in an Arctic entry at the church.
Kevin Shipley, district superintendent for the Kake City School, says school was closed Wednesday but open Thursday for students who wished to attend.
"Yesterday we did not have school because I did not feel like I could ensure my students' (safety)," Shipley said. "We didn't have a law enforcement presence in town and there was unknown (information) about what happened and most everyone was up very late at night, so I didn't feel it was beneficial to have school at that point."
Shipley says the town hosted a memorial Tuesday for a well-respected local elder. Ipsen says many people who attended the service have since left town, a factor which may complicate troopers' investigation.
Anyone with information on the case is asked to call AST dispatchers in Ketchikan at 907-225-5118.
Howard's next of kin have been notified.