Kodiak remains in dark on double-homicide investigation

Dan Joling | Associated Press
NICOLE KLAUSS / Kodiak Daily Mirror / Associated Press archive May 2012

From the vantage point of the Comfort Inn parking lot near the entrance to Kodiak's airport, traffic moves north toward downtown or south to the Coast Guard air station, the home to cutters, helicopters and rescue swimmers who aid mariners in the Bering Sea or Pacific Ocean.

There's also a road running west for the two-mile trip to another Coast Guard facility, the communications station, composed of a field of antennas and buildings that relay messages from the commercial fishing fleet and shipping lanes.

The FBI is looking for witnesses who passed the Comfort Inn about 7 a.m. on April 12 who might have spotted a blue sport utility vehicle, a 2001 Honda CR-V, with a black bib over the grill.

The Honda and its possible presence near the motel are two of the meager details the FBI has made public as it investigates a double homicide last month at the communication station. Richard Belisle, 51, a former Coast Guard chief petty officer who stayed on as a civilian, and Petty Officer 1st Class James Hopkins, 41, an electronics technician from Vergennes, Vt., were shot to death after they showed up for work on that Thursday.

Their bodies were found in the rigger building where antennas are repaired. The shooter is at large, and the FBI has been tight-lipped about suspects.

"There's very little we can say about the investigation," FBI spokesman Eric Gonzalez said after the incident. To do otherwise, he said, could jeopardize the integrity of the case.

The FBI has said the community of 6,300, some 250 miles south of Anchorage, is not in danger but has not said why, and that has residents perplexed.

"I think people are pretty confused on what's happening or what's not happening," said Alf Pryor, an artist and commercial fisherman. "There's not very much information that has been shared, and lots of rumors."

He doesn't worry about his own safety, he said, but he thinks others in Kodiak do.

"If there's no danger to the public, that would seem to indicate there's information out there that they could be sharing," he said.

Officially, for public consumption, there are no suspects or even a "person of interest" identified by the FBI.

Unofficially, most everyone in Kodiak knows that a co-worker of the two dead men owns a blue Honda CR-V, and a white Dodge pickup, another vehicle about which the FBI has sought information.

The Kodiak Daily Mirror and KTUU have reported that authorities searched the home of the co-worker and his family, located south of the Coast Guard air station. No one in the home responded to questions shouted from outside by a KTUU reporter last week.

Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson repeats the word "unsettling" when discussing the crime.

"We're not getting much information," she said. "I think it's an overall frustration for the community not knowing what happened. I don't know that there is a blanket of fear in the town. I don't sense that but it's unsettled."

No one -- not the FBI, the mayor or local police -- will even confirm the co-worker's name much less that his home was searched.

As the FBI keeps a lid on details, it has continued to reach out to the public for help.

A week after the shooting the FBI asked people to come forward if they had seen the blue Honda or the white Dodge pickup near the communication station or on nearby roads. Department of Motor Vehicle records show the co-worker owns both types of vehicles.

Five days later, the FBI appealed for information on the blue Honda CR-V only -- whether anyone had seen it along the road to the communication station or parked at the Comfort Inn.

"The vehicle may have been parked along the roadway or partially hidden behind a building or other obstruction in a fashion that it could have observed vehicles passing on the roadway," the agency announcement said. "It may also have been parked briefly in the parking lot of the Comfort Inn."

Focusing attention on the vehicle owners, Branson said, has put them in a bad situation.

"I know that family," she said. "Most people in the community do. They're involved with the community. So it puts them in a situation that I certainly wouldn't want to be in, where you have those kinds of identifications up there with questions being asked. I guess people can come to their own conclusions but they certainly shouldn't."

Early this month, the FBI and the Coast Guard Investigative Service asked volunteers -- especially those with metal detectors -- to search near the communication station. More than 100 community members showed up. They were told to look for anything out of place, such as clothing or pieces of a handgun.

The FBI has released no details about the weapon used in the shootings. However, last week agents made another appeal, seeking information from anyone in Alaska who sold, traded or transferred three models of .44-caliber revolvers in the last year.

How the FBI has gone about its investigation remains puzzling to the mayor.

"We're not in danger, and then volunteers are asked to go out and look for evidence," she said. "I did not understand that, when volunteers are asked to go look for evidence. Who knows who could have planted anything out there?"

Pryor said it's no secret on Kodiak that the FBI is monitoring a member of the community. Both he and the mayor said they are not jumping to any conclusions.

"Absolutely not," Branson said. "That's what I'm saying. You just can't do that. They need to come to some conclusion with the evidence and find the suspect. Because the FBI has a car parked outside the house of a co-worker doesn't mean that person is guilty by any means. And knowing the family, it would certainly surprise me if that were the case. I don't know."

Associated Press