Details in Koenig case remain under wraps

No further information expected until formal criminal charges are filed.

Anchorage Daily NewsApril 3, 2012 

Federal prosecutors say it will be at least a couple of weeks before much new information about the abduction and killing of 18-year-old Samantha Koenig becomes public.

An FBI forensic dive team discovered her body Monday under the ice at Matanuska Lake, north of Anchorage in the Mat-Su Borough near the intersection of the Glenn and Parks highways.

Anchorage police and FBI agents are jointly investigating the case.

Neither of the agencies involved will say how they zeroed in on the spot on the lake where Koenig's body was found, nor how they linked her abduction to Israel Keyes, an Anchorage self-employed carpenter jailed without bail last month on a fraud charge.

Authorities say he is directly tied to Koenig's disappearance but he hasn't been charged with her kidnapping or death.

Police Chief Mark Mew on Monday said investigators believe the person who killed Koenig acted alone, and that they are confident he is in custody.

New details about what happened to Koenig are not expected to emerge unless additional charges are filed, authorities said.

"Until and unless there are charges, there's nothing else that we are going to comment on," U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said Tuesday. "We have that ethical obligation. ... We don't try to go out and say 'this is what the person did,' before they are charged. That's not fair."

A federal grand jury next convenes in Anchorage in a couple of weeks.

'DEAR SAM'

Still, the discovery of the body was a significant development in a case that has consumed Anchorage for two months.

Koenig vanished around 8 p.m. on Feb. 1 at the end of her shift as a barista at Common Grounds Espresso, a coffee shack on Tudor Road in the parking lot of the Midtown Alaska Club. A security video showed a man forcing her to leave with him.

On Tuesday, mourners created a shrine at the coffee stand with flowers, Teddy bears, candles and notes. The stand closed early but people kept coming to drop off remembrances.

"I did not know this child, but her passing breaks my heart," one man wrote on a note left with a bouquet of roses.

"Clearly monsters live among us. To her family, I grieve with you."

"Dear Sam," another note said. "Hope you are looking down and seeing how many people love you."

A MAJOR EFFORT

The operation to find and recover the body relied on the FBI's highly specialized forensic dive team.

Twelve people from the FBI, including nine divers, came from the Lower 48 for the search, said Charles "Bart" Bartenfeld, an FBI agent based in Quantico, Va., and program manager of what the FBI calls its Underwater Search and Evidence Response Team.

Members of the team are stationed in four of the FBI's biggest offices -- Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Miami -- and join up for operations and training. All but the leaders also carry a regular caseload.

Usually the divers get weeks or even months of notice before going into the field, Bartenfeld said. Federal cases typically take a long time, and often divers are following up on old leads. They may be looking for weapons thrown into the water or trying to recover drugs from semi-submersible vessels at the bottom of the sea.

Bobby Chacon, an FBI agent and senior team leader of the Los Angeles dive unit, supervised Monday's dive. He spent four months diving in the Atlantic Ocean to recover bodies and airplane debris from the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island.

Both Chacon and Bartenfeld went to Iraq to check a canal for an AK-47 suspected of being used in the 2006 rape of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and the murder of her and her family. The person whose tip drew them there later recanted.

This time, Bartenfeld got the request from Anchorage to help on the Koenig case Friday night, and was told "we need you now." By Saturday, they were mobilizing.

ICE DIVING IN MURKY LAKE

Before a pair of divers went into the water Monday, the team used sonar and a remotely operated vehicle to look under the ice, Bartenfeld said. Investigators cut a dive hole through ice 2 1/2- to 3-feet thick.

"If you can cut down on the amount of work in the water, that's good. You're working in an environment that's hostile to human life," said Chacon, who's been diving for the FBI for 17 years, longer than any other agent.

That evening, Bartenfeld and another diver slipped into the murky, dark lake water. They couldn't see, but they were guided by the sonar, he said. They felt well-prepared. They are ice-diving certified and use layers of extra FBI procedure to ensure safety, Chacon said.

The divers were tethered to land through hoses that supplied air from a surface tank and provided a channel for communications and depth measurements. They wore helmets to protect their heads from the cold and ice.

They didn't have to dive deep, maybe 40 feet. They stayed in the water just under an hour.

Support crews included FBI paramedics, other divers monitoring equipment, and Anchorage police. About two dozen people were there in all.

Investigators moved two white tents over the spot where the divers went in, and a snowmachine pulling a long, covered sled was seen leaving less than an hour later.

Mew told reporters they discovered Koenig's body.

The divers said they couldn't talk about what they were looking for or what they found.

But usually, they said, when they find evidence it can be significant. They both used to be case agents.

The investigation into Koenig's death continues.


Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

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