Community members in Kotzebue pause to pray as search effort continues

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KOTZEBUE, Alaska (KTUU) — After almost a week of constant searching, community members in Kotzebue paused to pray Wednesday evening.

Courtesy Scotty Barr

Dozens of people stood with bowed heads in Rainbow Park, the spot officials say was the last place anyone saw 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr before she went missing last Thursday.

Placards adorned the steel wire fence, praying for her return and sending messages of love as crowds shielded children in the middle off a prayer circle. One sign read 'one child missing is too many.'

Family and friends hugged each other, tears were shed, and laughter was shared. The sun peaked out from the clouds of a mostly grey day, bathing the makeshift congregation in golden light as they stood holding hands.

"I had no knowledge before it happened at all," Walter "Scotty" Barr, Ashley's father, said of the prayer gathering. "It goes to show the love of the community and everyone who has helped."

Barr says his daughter, a fifth grade elementary student, loves basketball, picking berries with her mother and has been an honor student since the second day. He says she often uses her allowance to buy candy and toys for other kids and enjoys playing and looking after her niece.

During the day, teams of volunteers again poured in and out of the Northwest Arctic Borough building, debriefing with team leaders as they rechecked areas that officials say weren't searched thoroughly the first time.

To refuel, piles of food were placed on tables, including zip lock bags filled with muktuk, a local delicacy. Crews paused to share the raw bowhead and cooked beluga whale brought in from Point Hope.

One volunteer crew searched near the hospital site on the banks of Swan Lake. Under buildings, in thick Willow brush and in abandoned buildings, the crews scoured the area for any clues that might lead investigators to find Barr-Johnson.

Pastor Tim Ungry, who leads the congregation at Kotzebue Bible Baptist Church, says Barr-Johnson regularly attends the church with her siblings and enjoys Sunday school.

Ungry has worked as a missionary in Alaska villages for nearly 20 years, working in Ruby, Fort Yukon, and Kotzebue for the past year. In that time, he says a member of the congregation has never gone missing.

"For those viewing this crisis," Ungry said, "please be praying, for the family and searcher's safety and the investigators for wisdom, to find Ashley."

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