The Washington Post

A killer was on the loose in a remote Alaska town with no law enforcement

A murder of a young girl rocked the community of Kake, Alaska.

The brutal murder of 13-year-old Mackenzie Howard left the residents in the remote village of Kake, Alaska, shaken. The ensuing investigation was delayed since the town did not have law enforcement. Alaska Natives say they often have to step up to provide security in rural villages where assailants have no fear of the law. (Whitney Shefte/The Washington Post)

Imagine living in a place that has no law enforcement, a place that’s isolated, without any roads that lead to another town, or another place where police officers work. Imagine when something bad does happen, state troopers have to fly in from over a hundred miles away. Imagine while you wait 11 hours for those police officers to arrive, a killer is on the loose in your town.

This is what happened in Kake, Alaska, when 13-year-old Mackenzie Howard was killed in February 2013. At the time, Kake was one of at least 75 remote Alaska villages that had no law enforcement. Though Kake now has a village public safety officer (VPSO), he is not legally allowed to carry a firearm. This is in spite of the fact that many people in the village hunt with guns. Alaska’s governor just signed a bill to allow VPSOs to carry firearms, but training won’t begin until January.

“Because people were scared, and rightly so. Because they still hadn’t figured out who did the crime. All we knew that there was a killer in our mix, and people were on edge,” said Joel Jackson, a carver from Kake who used to be the village’s police chief 30 years ago. The one-person police department was closed because of a lack of funding.

A 14-year-old suspect was arrested 10 days after the murder. He is being held in a juvenile detention facility on an island more than 100 miles away from Kake, waiting to find out whether he will be tried as a juvenile or an adult.

Writer Sari Horwitz, photographer Linda Davidson and I traveled to Kake to tell the story of what happened there, and what it feels like to live in a place with little or no law enforcement. I produced a short documentary video. Read Horwitz’s story and see Davidson’s photos here.

Whitney Shefte is a Peabody, Emmy and Pictures of the Year International (POYi) Award-winning senior video journalist at The Washington Post, where she has worked since 2006. Whitney is also the visuals editor for Storyline.



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