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Double dose of heartache in Kotlik

Megan Edge

Five days after 4-year-old Terrell Hunt vanished in the Western Alaska village of Kotlik, Alaska State Trooper William Connors described the town as quiet and its residents as exhausted.

The entire town has been searching, some putting in 14-hour days, checking abandoned buildings, the school and the banks of the Kotlik Slough, which parallels the length of the town. Not even a piece of clothing has turned up, he said

"We just need to find him, on land or water," said Connors over the phone. "Nothing is ruled out; we are just hoping to find him."

A search that began Monday, when Hunt's parents reported him missing to a village police officer, has brought more than 60 people into the search effort, according to Connors, who is stationed out of Emmonak. Three search and rescue dog teams were mobilized from Anchorage earlier this week but left Thursday. Connors said more would arrive Saturday. Grant Aviation is flying additional routes over the slough and the nearby Bering Sea.

"We are trying to utilize everyone to the best of our ability," said Connors. "It's a somber feeling, but they are coming together a lot more than I have ever seen."

The boy was last seen Monday night, playing with other children at the school playground in the community of 644 people. His parents were expecting him at home, but he never showed up, Connors said. Investigators interviewed about 20 children, according to Connors. Many of them would only make statements like "No, we didn't play together."

According to Connors, a dog specially trained to sniff out signs in water kept indicating activity in various sections of the Kotlik Slough. Villagers have been dragging the slough since the search began.

Connors said in four years stationed at Emmonak he has seen numerous search and rescue operations. Some, he said, fell through the ice on snowmachines and others were victims of capsized boats, but what makes the search for the missing boy different is the fact that he vanished from the middle of the community.

"You have contact with everyone in the community, and everyone is involved," he said. "The mother -- I swear I talk to the mom at least 20 times a day, but I am trying to do what I can to support the family."

And he said this isn't the only struggle villagers are fighting through right now. Just days before the 4-year-old went missing, on May 16, a 19-year-old woman committed suicide. Despite rumors, troopers spokesperson Megan Peters said there were no signs of foul play.

But as they say goodbye to her, they are continuing to search for answers as to where the boy, not yet old enough to attend school, went. Search efforts will continue, said Connor, adding that they are running out of rope, fishing gloves and drag hooks -- all search and rescue necessities.

"When it rains it really does pour. This community, they have been hit so hard."

Reach Megan Edge at megan@alaskadispatch.com.


By MEGAN EDGE
megan@alaskadispatch.com