ANCHORAGE (KTUU) It’s turning out to be an extremely violent year in Alaska’s largest city.
Twenty-five people have been murdered in Anchorage so far in 2016 with arrests in just 11 of the homicides, according to Anchorage police.
Fifteen murders have been committed since the end of June.
The map below shows the general location of killings reported across the city as of Sept. 5. Blue markers indicate homicides in which police have arrested at least one suspect. Red markers -- more than half of cases -- indicate killings that are unsolved or in which no arrest has been made. Three double homicides remain unsolved.
(Having trouble seeing the map? click here to open it in a new browser.)
Judging from data going back two decades, the only year when Anchorage’s murder rate was higher was 1995 when the city had 29 homicides.
After a recent double killing in one of the city’s most family-friendly public places – Valley of the Moon Park, near Downtown – police issued a rare public warning: residents should not be alone late at night or in the early morning in isolated areas. That would include the city’s 250 miles of trails and greenbelts, one of Anchorage’s 223 parks, or nearly 11,000 acres of municipal parkland.
The Aug. 28 killings of Bryant “Brie” DeHusson, 25, and Kevin Schuyler Turner, 34, in Valley of the Moon, have shaken local residents.
“Everyone is concerned,” said Samuel Moore, president of the North Star Community Council. “A lot of the community wants to organize a community watch with armed citizens. I’m worried about that.”
“I would leave that to the professionals,” Moore said.
Moore, who lives at West 19th and Arctic Boulevard, said he heard shots fired from Valley of Moon Park in the early hours of Aug. 28. He was concerned and wanted to listen to the police scanner to find out if it was fireworks or actual gunshots.
But Anchorage police silenced their public scanner feed this summer citing concerns that criminals were using it and that identifying details about victims were being released.
Many people feel “there is not a lot of good information coming out of the mayor’s office or the police department” about the recent spike in murders and they are frustrated, Moore said.
Moore said representatives of the police department and the mayor's office have committed to attending a Sept. 14 community council meeting.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has said increasing public safety and beefing up the police department are among his top priorities. A police academy that started in June has 29 recruits who are expected to graduate in December. Another group of new officers who are finishing up their field training should be on the street soon.
The police chief said last month that the city is on track to meet its goal of having a force of 400 officers by year's end or in early 2017.
But even with more police, the community is on edge because of the uptick in homicides. The Valley of the Moon killings followed an unsolved double homicide in Ship Creek in July, and another at Point Worozof in January.
“We’re not safe. I work about a mile from my house and I should use the Chester Creek Trail but I don’t. I don’t feel it’s safe, at least not in the evening or early in the morning,” Moore said.
The FBI is known to be assisting Anchorage police is trying to solve the Valley of the Moon killings.
“They clearly have resources that are more extensive than local law enforcement. I would expect they would be involved,” said Mike Moberly, an Anchorage criminal defense attorney.
Neither APD nor the FBI will say if the federal agency is looking to any of Anchorage’s other unsolved homicides.
Retired Anchorage homicide detective Glen Klinkhart said that during his 17 years on the force he wouldn’t hesitate to call in the FBI if he was investigating a complicated murder or if the homicide unit was maxed out.
“It’s not uncommon to bring in people with special skills,” he said.
With 15 homicides since June 27, it also wouldn’t surprise Klinkhart if the detective unit could use some help.
“I'm sure they have been working night and day,” he said.
With so many unsolved murders, social media has been rife with speculation that a serial killer might be on the loose. When asked for comment about that theory, police spokeswoman Jennifer Castro said she would not “speculate on anything.”
“Right now we have several ongoing homicide investigations in which we are trying to determine the circumstances surrounding the deaths of our homicide victims,” Castro said.
In a recent interview with KTUU, District Attorney Clint Campion said residents can reduce their chances of becoming a victim of violent crime by following the police department’s recent advice about avoiding isolated places alone late at night or early in the morning.
“I also don't think there is reason for alarm. I really don't. I think this is generally a safe place to live and if people take just moderate steps to be safe they can preserve their safety,” Campion said.
Contact KTUU Senior Digital Reporter Paula Dobbyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, 907-762-9242 or @pauladobbyn