Someone killed a 13-year-old girl found dead in a Kake church late Tuesday but the circumstances of the apparent homicide remain a mystery, according to Alaska State Troopers.
A resident of the Southeast village of about 600 found Mackenzie Howard's body inside the Memorial Presbyterian Church sometime after 11 p.m. Tuesday, troopers said. Earlier in the day, dozens of Kake residents and people visiting the village from other communities attended a memorial service at the church and many left the village the next day, troopers said.
Two detectives with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation and two state crime scene investigators flew to Kake on Wednesday, said Lt. Rex Leath, the bureau's deputy commander in charge of major crimes. Interviews and evidence they collected at the church ruled out the possibility that Howard had killed herself, either intentionally or by accident, Leath said.
"I can't get into too much detail. We're still interviewing individuals that might have knowledge of the crime scene," Leath said. "The injuries that the victim sustained, we believe, are indicative of what could be a homicide, versus self-inflicted injuries."
People had cleared out of the church after the memorial but gatherings were still going on around the village through the night, Leath said. The lieutenant refused to say who found Howard's body or if the person was connected to the church.
Troopers spokeswoman Beth Ipsen said the body would undergo an autopsy in Anchorage. A medical examiner would make the ultimate decision on whether foul play caused Howard's death, Ipsen said.
"We don't know conclusively the cause and manner of death. We may have theories but until the medical examiner says, 'This is it,' we don't know for sure," Ipsen said.
Leath said the investigators think Howard attended "functions" related to the memorial but he would not elaborate. There are potential witnesses who traveled to the village for the service whom troopers still want to contact, Ipsen said.
"There have been a lot of people that've since left," Ipsen said. "And that's another thing -- we have people we have to track down."
It's possible the person who killed Howard left Kake, Leath said. Boats and planes are the only ways out of the community, at the northwest tip of Kupreanof Island about 90 miles south of Juneau, Leath said.
So far, troopers are not worried that a killer is on the loose and endangering others, Leath said: "No fact that we've collected thus far leads us to believe it wasn't an isolated event."
School was canceled Wednesday, Kake school superintendent Kevin Shipley said. There is no full-time police presence in Kake, he said.
"We did not have school yesterday due to the fact I couldn't ensure students' safety," Shipley said. "Or I didn't feel like I could at that point in time."
Classes resumed Thursday, he said. At least one counselor for SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium was already in the village for the Tuesday memorial. Additional counselors flew to Kake from Sitka and to work with school employees and students. They provided crisis counseling Wednesday night at the village community center, Shipley said.
Howard was a seventh-grader at the school, Shipley said.
"Most awesome child you ever met," he said. "Smiled all the time. Was very welcoming to me from the day I got here."
Daily News reporter Kyle Hopkins contributed to this story. Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE