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Mother, boyfriend charged in death of Barrow child

Richard Mauer

The investigation of the beating death of a Barrow child and the battering of the child's baby sibling took another twist Monday when Anchorage police arrested the children's mother on a warrant from Barrow.

Esther Edwards-Gust, who turned 28 Saturday, was charged with two counts of felony assault, just like her boyfriend, Richard Tilden Jr., 28.

Anchorage police spokesman Lt. David Parker said Edwards-Gust was picked up Monday and later released from jail. He didn't know if she had to post bail.

The Alaska Court System's online database showed that bail wasn't set for Edwards-Gust, a second-grade public school teacher in Barrow.

Tilden is being held in the Barrow jail on $100,000 bail.

The domestic violence case became a homicide investigation over the weekend with the death of one of the victims, a 3-year-old child who was badly beaten, the North Slope Borough Police Department reported.

The other battery victim is a 1-year-old baby, who remains hospitalized at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. The 3-year-old died at the medical center Saturday, borough police said.

Edwards-Gust flew from Barrow to Anchorage to stay with the children at the hospital, according to a sister of Tilden's. The sister said Edwards-Gust was at school when police and emergency personnel arrived at her house on a report that one of the children wasn't breathing. Tilden was arrested there.

Borough Police Chief Leon Boyea said Monday that when police answered the emergency call Thursday, the 3-year-old child was unconscious. Boyea said he didn't want to disclose any more information about the case because of the investigation.

The borough police department has a single investigator who was already busy from a double shooting on Jan. 28 that led to two attempted murder charges against a Barrow man, Boyea said. Patrol officers have been assisting in the investigation of Tilden, he said.

"We're in the early stages now. This is not something that you could wrap up in a couple of days."

A spokesman for the District Attorney's office in Barrow said Monday that Richard Tilden Jr. was in the local jail on $100,000 bail after his arraignment last week on two assault charges. The borough police said they expected new charges to be filed against Tilden following the death of the child, but the DA's office said he was still being held on the original charges.

The authorities have not named the two children.

Meanwhile, borough police said they raided the home of an alleged Barrow bootlegger early Saturday morning and seized seven bottles of whiskey, 2 1/2 gallons of box wine and four cases of beer. Police said they believed that the alleged bootlegger, Samisoni Kilifi Fotukava, 20, supplied booze to Tilden.

Fotukava was picked up in the raid and held on a felony count of failing to obtain an alcohol license or permit, the borough police said.

"The North Slope Borough Police Department believes illegally purchased alcohol may have been a factor related to the injuries suffered by both victims in the underlying case," the department said in a prepared statement.

Barrow is a "damp" village, meaning people can import alcohol but not sell it.

Borough police announced Tilden's arrest on Friday. But they made no mention of Edwards-Gust, even though identical charges were filed against her that same day and her case number and Tilden's are sequential, showing they were filed back-to-back.

Tilden has a record going back to age 17 of alcohol violations, drunk driving and assault in Dillingham, where he grew up and played high school basketball, according to state court records that match his name and date of birth. His wife, Michelene, who died last summer at 28, according to public records, filed for a domestic violence restraining order against him in 2006.

His father, Richard Tilden Sr., now deceased, advocated creation near Dillingham of a "spirit camp" in 1995 to help local people recover from alcohol addiction.

Court records show Edwards-Gust filed for divorce from her husband, Demitri, in May. The case is still pending.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.


By RICHARD MAUER
Anchorage Daily News