Police say they believe barista missing for weeks is alive

Casey Grove
Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News

Anchorage police have reason to believe that missing 18-year-old Samantha Koenig is alive, according to a detective investigating her apparent abduction about five weeks ago.

While police have revealed few details about the investigation since Koenig vanished Feb. 1 -- they say she was seen frightened in surveillance video as an armed man forced her from a Midtown coffee hut about 8 p.m. -- the team of detectives on the case is working hard to find her, said Sgt. Slawomir Markiewicz, the head of the police department's Homicide Unit.

The team has interviewed more than 100 people and followed up on about 400 tips, Markiewicz said. They've been making progress on a daily basis and still hope to find Koenig unharmed, Markiewicz said.

"I'm privy to the details of the investigation, and I believe that she's alive," Markiewicz said.

Markiewicz said there was no evidence that Koenig is dead. When asked if there is evidence that she is alive, he declined to comment further.

Markiewicz's remarks came Thursday afternoon just after Koenig's father held a press conference to defend his daughter against what he described as slanderous comments posted on Facebook and elsewhere online.

James Koenig also said he thinks his daughter is alive.

"I believe that's the mind set we all have to keep," he said. "I mean, there's nothing that says she isn't."

James Koenig has engaged in an online battle of words with a local rapper named in a protective order application filed by his daughter in November. Samantha Koenig never followed up on getting the order, which would have prohibited Christopher Bird from contacting her. But she wrote in the court filing that Bird, who makes music under the name Whyte Tyson, forced her to have sex with him.

Bird, 24, says those allegations are completely false. At his lawyer's office Friday, Bird said Koenig lied in the court papers and, as a result, he has been wrongfully linked to her abduction.

Bird and his mother, Tammie Counts, said Bird had nothing to do with Koenig's abduction and was at home eating fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans the night she disappeared. There are several witnesses to that, and the police have turned their attention away from Bird, he and his mother said.

"If my son had anything to do with this, he'd be sitting in jail right now," Counts said. "We told (the police), 'We'll give lie detector tests, DNA, whatever you want.' We are not lying, we have nothing to hide in this situation."

Bird said gossip about his involvement spread quickly online through Facebook and YouTube.

"I had nothing to do with none of that. And now I'm internationally known as a rapist and a kidnapper. That's what the speculation is," he said.

People have called to threaten him and his family, Bird said. The speculation has ruined his life and he lost his spot in barber school because of it, Bird said.

Bird, his mother and his 3-year-old daughter are planning to leave Alaska soon because they don't feel safe.

But those in Bird's corner -- including a man who described himself as Samantha Koenig's step-brother, Michael Pedersen -- have not remained silent about what they say are Koenig's past indiscretions, taking to Facebook and talking to reporters about what they say her life was really like.

For one thing, Pedersen said, Koenig told him she made up everything in the protective order filing, and he had heard she had problems with her dad and her boyfriend.

None of that is true, said James Koenig.

His daughter had gone through a rough patch with her boyfriend months ago, but he helped them work through it, he said. She'd smoked marijuana in the past, and delved into cocaine use more than a year ago, but neither she nor her boyfriend were using any kind of drugs recently, James Koenig said.

In profanity-laden Facebook posts, Bird has blamed James Koenig for Samantha's disappearance, an assertion Koenig says is false.

Markiewicz, the detective, said the investigation has not turned up any information indicating the abduction is related to James Koenig. Markiewicz would not say if Bird is a suspect or has been cleared in the investigation. The nasty dialogue between Bird's supporters and Koenig's was a distraction, Markiewicz said.

"Our main focus is finding Samantha, finding her alive, and that's what we're focused on," the detective said. "That's why we're dedicating all of our resources to that. There are a lot of other things happening. But we have to maintain the focus and stay the course."

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.

Anchorage Daily News