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When murder suspect is arrested in small Alaska town of Haines

Heather Lende

This is what my husband said to my father on the phone: “Not much is new here. The weather is great. The kids are doing fine, and they found a murderer in our neighborhood." 

Make that an alleged murderer. Later I heard that the guy they were after may have jumped out a second story window and might have hid in a neighbor’s shed, before he was captured right before a friend and I walked our dogs in nearly the same location. It was a sunny day, my doors were wide open, there were babies and old people at home up and down the road, so I called the police to see what was happening. They said not to worry; a suspect was in custody. When I shared that with another inquiring neighbor, she said, “Suspected of what?”

That night the radio news reported that the 40 year-old former liquor store clerk -- who I later learned also cleaned some businesses, offices, and the bank and did a pretty good job -- had lived here about nine months and was the ex-boyfriend of a friend’s mother. He was wanted for murder in Utah. People I talked to were shocked. When I read in the paper that he was accused of raping and killing an old lady in an Ogden retirement home, and may be connected to another sexual assault the same day in what was a 20 year-old cold case that recently re-opened thanks to DNA testing, I was horrified. The headlines statewide read, “Haines Man Arrested for Murder.”

Really?

Well, we are at the north end of the Inside Passage smack up against the Canada border. You can’t run much farther from anywhere than here, and once you are in Haines it’s not easy to leave without money or a passport. 

Also, Haines is not as small as we appear. If you seek privacy, it’s easy to find. We mostly give people the benefit of the doubt. We try not to judge books by covers. It is not uncommon to hear someone say that while they heard so-and-so is trouble, he or she has always been nice to them -- or is a hard worker, or has a good dog.

My 80-year-old neighbor Betty and I chatted about all this the next day. She was pleased that our little police department actually caught a murder suspect, without injury to anyone, and promptly shipped him out of town. I asked if she thought we weren’t as safe as we like to believe. Has the world caught up with Haines? No, Betty said, there aren’t that many bad guys out there and most people are decent folks. Also, the odds of another one — assuming he is convicted of the evil he is accused of — showing up here anytime soon just got a lot smaller.

Here’s something big to consider: If he is innocent, will I forget the headlines and welcome him back?  And if he is found guilty, will I ever forgive him?

Haines writer Heather Lende is finishing her third book of essays, “Finding the Good.” This post originally appeared on her blog. It has been reprinted with permission.