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Man arrested in Koenig case awaits transport to Alaska

Casey Grove
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

A man arrested this week in Texas and linked to missing Anchorage 18-year-old Samantha Koenig is in federal custody awaiting transport back to Alaska, authorities say.

The man, Israel Keyes, is a person of interest in Koenig's apparent abduction, Anchorage police said. Keyes, 34, allegedly committed access device fraud. That charge is usually associated with a person taking funds from another person's bank account with a debit card or by other means. Details of the charges against Keyes or his connection to Koenig remain under wraps in sealed court documents.

Police say Koenig vanished the night of Feb. 1 at the end of her shift at a coffee hut in the Midtown parking lot of a fitness center. A surveillance video shows an armed man "significantly taller" that the 5-foot-5 Koenig force her from the small building, a detective said. They walked away, and nobody has reported seeing Koenig since.

According to a criminal complaint filed in Texas, Keyes took $1,000 or more from another person sometime between Tuesday, Feb. 28 and Tuesday, March 13, the day he was arrested. Police refuse to say if he was found with Koenig's bank card or anything else that belonged to her.

Texas law enforcement stopped Keyes after a traffic violation on a highway passing through Lufkin, northeast of Houston and near the Davy Crockett National Forest. Diners at Lufkin's Cotton Patch Cafe watched as a police cruiser trailed Keyes' white, two-door Honda sedan into the restaurant's parking lot just after 11 a.m. Tuesday, said Cotton Patch server Amanda Rhea.

Keyes stood nonchalantly outside the car -- shown in local television station footage with Texas license plates -- wearing a tank top and sunglasses, Rhea said. He stood about 6 feet tall and had his hands in his pockets, she said. Then, about 40 minutes later unmarked cars and what looked like federal agents and Texas Rangers swarmed into the parking lot, Rhea said Friday. Other cars weren't able to get in or out of the parking lot, she said.

"I guess you could say we were all kind of rubbernecking at that point," Rhea said. "We saw 'em pull a girl's backpack out of the trunk of the car."

The backpack was pink, Rhea said. She said Keyes, who seemed cooperative, was put in handcuffs and into the back of a police car. It wasn't until later that the restaurant staff, between serving its typical fare of chicken-fried steak and burgers, learned he was arrested in connection with a kidnapping outside Texas, she said.

Two days later, police identified Keyes by name and said he was involved in Koenig's disappearance in Alaska.

"When I found out where the girl was from, that really shocked me," Rhea said. "We just had heard it was out of state. We didn't realize it was that far out of state."

"My sympathy goes out to the family. And hopefully they find her."

Koenig's father, James Koenig, said he doesn't know Keyes and has no idea how his daughter might have known him. He said a detective told him about Keyes' arrest just before it was announced to the public.

"(I felt) several emotions. I don't know how to explain them. I was happy they got the guy. But I'm worried that if he was working by himself, where's my daughter? Someone else has to know something about her whereabouts," James Koenig said. "All I'm doing is staying focused and hopeful that they'll find her. Obviously (the police) had good reason for not sharing information until this point. They were on the right track. I'm just hopeful they're going to find her any day now."

To James' knowledge, Samantha did not own a pink backpack.

"Sam grew out of backpacks years ago. She was into purses," he said.

According to Keyes' neighbors, who watched Anchorage police search his home in the Turnagain neighborhood Tuesday, Keyes lived there with a woman and a girl who is 12 or 13 years old.

Anchorage police and federal authorities would not comment on what evidence was recovered from Keyes' car in Texas, what led them to Keyes or why they think he traveled outside Alaska. For security reasons, the U.S. Marshals Service will not say when it expects to transport Keyes back to Alaska, where he owns a one-man carpentry business called Keyes Construction.

Texas and Anchorage police, the marshals, the FBI, Texas Rangers and Texas Highway Patrol are all involved in the case, Alaska U.S. Attorney Karen Loeffler said Friday.

"Everybody's biggest concern is Ms. Koenig, of course. And we're working together as hard we can," Loeffler said.

According to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in East Texas, Keyes appeared in court Friday and waived his right to a preliminary hearing, which will likely be held in Alaska at a later date.

"He agreed to detention and removal to Alaska. So it's out of our hands now," said the spokeswoman, Davilyn Walston.

The Marshals Service said it could take weeks for Keyes to arrive in Alaska, depending on its transport schedule.

Two Anchorage detectives were in Texas this week and remain there conducting searches and serving warrants, police spokeswoman Anita Shell said. Police in Anchorage continue to follow leads in a round-the-clock effort to find Koenig, she said.

"We don't have any indication that she's dead or alive. We are hopeful that she is alive, but at this time we don't have any indication either way," Shell said. "We have an unprecedented number of detectives working on this."

Investigators are asking members of the public who have had personal or business contact with Keyes to call 1-800-225-5324 OR 1-800-CALL-FBI.

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


By CASEY GROVE
Anchorage Daily News