Four days after he disappeared from the settlement of McCarthy, the man known as Papa Pilgrim was still on the run Tuesday night from Alaska State Troopers seeking his arrest on sexual assault, kidnapping and incest charges.
Troopers were fielding tips from all over Alaska after putting out word that the Scripture-quoting patriarch had slipped away in a dark-blue camper van. Bob Hale, as he was known before coming to Alaska in 1998 and adopting the Pilgrim name, was charged last week by a Palmer grand jury with 30 felony counts involving one of his daughters.
Hale, 64, lived with his wife and 15 children on a remote homestead in the Wrangell Mountains, where he was engaged in a high-profile feud with the National Park Service.
On Tuesday, the family was scattered but safe. Five of Hale's older children, including the three oldest daughters, were staying with a family in Palmer where they have been taking shelter periodically since April. Three brothers are helping guide a hunt in the Wrangells and will join their siblings soon, said Jim Buckingham, the active-duty Fort Richardson Army officer who has opened his Palmer home to them.
The seven youngest children are still with their mother, Kurina Hale, at the family homestead 14 miles up a valley near McCarthy.
In a written statement issued Tuesday night, the older children said their eyes had been opened "to the blatant sin and deceit that their father had perpetrated over the years on the whole family." They said they had left the home they call Hillbilly Heaven to separate themselves from their father's control, saying it was the hardest thing they ever did.
"Through the support of the Buckingham family and the Lord working in our lives, our eyes were opened to the sin and deceit which had been occurring behind the scenes and which was hidden from my brothers and I," said the statement of Joseph Hale, 28, the oldest son. "When our sister came to us for help, we were united in our desire before God to take whatever action was necessary to protect her."
They said they hold no bitterness toward their father but want him held accountable. Living for much of the past three years on a mining site inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Hale espoused a strict and personal Christian doctrine that shielded his family from the outside world. They increasingly aggravated their neighbors in the little town of McCarthy, where they had set up an impromptu camp and horse stables on a road right of way. But the family drew support from others for their politics, their colorful wilderness lifestyle and their bluegrass-flavored musical performances.
The criminal charges broadly cover seven years, back to the family's arrival in Alaska in 1998. But many charges, including assaults, kidnapping and three sexual assaults, point to a single incident last January. Soon after, the older children left the homestead.
Hale himself left the homestead in mid-September, a week after the troopers investigation began.
McCarthy Air pilot Gary Green flew Hale out. Green said Tuesday that it was apparent Hale was leaving for a long time.
"I knew something serious had happened," he said.
Kurina Hale, who goes by the name Country Rose, was standing by the airstrip with cash to pay Green when he arrived, he said. Hale was approaching with the small children, pushing his gear in a wheelbarrow. They stuffed the Cessna 180 with his belongings, including a guitar and an old Sharps rifle. Then Hale hugged and kissed the children and the family held a brief prayer session, he said.
Later, Green said, he got a phone call from Country Rose. "She said to me, 'Do not bring him back up the creek,' " he said.
Green said he thought Hale drove to Anchorage that day. But last Thursday, Green said, he learned Hale was back in McCarthy, staying in a wall tent with a wood stove on the west side of the Kennicott River. The family bought 10 acres last winter at the end of the gravel road from Chitina so they could move their town camp.
Two troopers arrived Friday evening in a helicopter to arrest Hale and found the tent deserted, the stovepipe warm and Hale's four-wheeler gone. They searched on foot, said trooper spokesman Greg Wilkinson, but by 8 p.m., with darkness and bad weather closing in, the helicopter had to return to Anchorage.
The next morning, a trooper car from the four-person Glennallen post started toward McCarthy. But Hale had evidently left McCarthy in his van during the night, Wilkinson said. The trooper was called back after the van was reported missing from its parking place in McCarthy, he said.
"Maybe we underestimated him," Wilkinson said.
He said he did not know why the troopers didn't send a car toward McCarthy Friday night when the helicopter left.
He said the helicopter trip to McCarthy had been delayed by a search and rescue mission, and the trooper sent out of Glennallen on Saturday was diverted by a motor vehicle crash and another arrest warrant.
On Tuesday, troopers searched Hale's camp in McCarthy looking for clues to his whereabouts, Wilkinson said. Meanwhile investigators were sifting through reports from Valdez, Fairbanks, Palmer, Eagle River, Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula.
Airports and the highway border post south of Tok were notified to watch for Hale last Thursday night, after the indictment and arrest warrant were drawn up, Wilkinson said. But a general alert didn't go out until Monday, after the indictment was unsealed.
INSIDE CHILDREN'S STATEMENT: The Pilgrim family's older children discuss their father's recent indictment on 30 felony counts involving one of their sisters.
Statement from Pilgrim children and a family friend
A group of the Pilgrim children and the Jim Buckingham family of Palmer issued a written statement Tuesday afternoon.
Jim Buckingham described himself as an active duty Army officer stationed at Fort Richardson. He said his family is accommodating five of the older Hale children, and that these five plus the other three older children have used the Buckingham residence as their "home away from home" since April 2005.
Their remarks are printed verbatim:
* Jim Buckingham: "Our primary concern as a family is the safety and welfare of Country Rose and her 15 children during this very difficult period in their lives. We have been privileged to discover in Country Rose and her older children a genuine desire to do what is right before God and man ... a pursuit which has been greatly hindered by their father who demanded unwavering submission to his gravely misguided authority.
"Over the last six months of close contact with the older children, we have discovered young men and women that have purposed in their hearts to genuinely follow Jesus Christ, to amend the wrongs of the past and set an honorable and productive course for their lives in the days ahead. We, along with others who know them well, are committed to assisting the Pilgrim family in whatever way we can to achieve those noble goals."
* The older Hale children: "Currently, Country Rose and her seven younger children are residing at their homestead outside of McCarthy (Hillbilly Heaven) indefinitely.
"The older children (Elishaba, 29; Joseph, 28; Joshua, 25; David, 23; Moses, 20; Israel, 18; Jerusalem, 16; and Hosanna, 15) voluntarily left their home at Hillbilly Heaven in the Spring of 2005 in order to clearly separate themselves from the influence, misguided authority and control of their father 'Papa Pilgrim' as their eyes were opened to the blatant sin and deceit that their father had perpetrated over the years on the whole family.
"Three of the older brothers, Joshua, David and Moses, are currently finishing up a commitment they have doing big game guiding in the Wrangell Mountains.
"The five other older children (Elishaba, Joseph, Israel, Jerusalem and Hosanna) are currently residing at the Buckingham's home in Palmer."
* Joseph Hale: "Through the support of the Buckingham family and the Lord working in our lives, our eyes were opened to the sin and deceit which had been occurring behind the scenes and which was hidden from my brothers and I. When our sister came to us for help, we were united in our desire before God to take whatever action was necessary to protect her."
* The older Hale children: "We hold no bitterness, anger or resentment towards our Papa but simply desire that he be held accountable for his actions before God and man. We would pray that he would openly confess his sin before God and repent ... knowing that God is able and willing to both forgive his sin and save his soul. This is the hardest thing we have ever had to do, but we want to be clear about our desire to separate ourselves from evil ... which required us to physically separate from Papa. The requirement that we count the cost of following Christ has required that we be obedient to the Scripture which says, 'He that loveth father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me.' Matthew 10:37.
"We are so thankful to have the love and complete support of our Mama in this very difficult time. We trust her explicitly and know that she would lay her life down for us. We also are grateful to have the love and support of the Buckingham family. They have truly been a 'father to the fatherless' during our time of real need and provided us with daily love and counsel. Our lives are filled with joy and hope of a new life before us."
By Tom Kizzia
Anchorage Daily News