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Photos: 1 year after child's murder, public safety concerns linger in Kake

Marla Howard looks at the church where her daughter, Mackenzie, was found dead last February.
Linda Davidson / Washington Post photo
In the home of Marla and Kip Howard, a shrine with candles, photos and basketball jerseys pays tribute to their 13-year-old daughter Mackenzie, who was found dead last February.
Linda Davidson / Washington Post photo
Marla Howard hugs carver Joel Jackson, a lifelong Kake, Alaska, resident who helped guard the crime scene next to his studio after her daughter was murdered. Kake does not have enough funds for a police officer, and state troopers didn't arrive until the next day.
Linda Davidson / Washington Post photo
A villager in Kake, Alaska, passes the empty office of the village public safety officer, who was away for training for a week. These officers haven't been allowed to carry guns.
Linda Davidson / Washington Post photo
A close-knit and mostly peaceful community, Kake, Alaska villagers live off the land and use a "circle peacekeeping" program to resolve minor disputes and misdemeanors.
Linda Davidson / Washington Post photo
Clifton "Kip" Howard of Kake, Alaska, says his world changed after the death of his daughter Mackenzie.
Linda Davidson / Washington Post photo
Grave Island, across the water from Kake, Alaska, is where the village's elders are buried and where Mackenzie Howard was laid to rest.
Linda Davidson / Washington Post photo
Sari Horwitz | Washington Post

KAKE -- Her body lay in the back entryway of the church for 11 hours after villagers called the Alaska State Troopers for help. She was a 13-year-old nicknamed “Mack” who wore big red glasses and loved to dance. The Tlingit girl had been beaten to death.

No one knew who killed Mackenzie Howard that cold February night last year -- and people were terrified that the killer was still in their midst. But in the remote community of Kake, only accessible by air or boat, there was no law enforcement officer. That meant no police to protect the community, cordon off the crime scene, preserve the evidence and launch an investigation. The villagers had to wait for state troopers in Juneau, 114 miles away, to get there.

“They have the capability of flying at night now . . . but still nobody came,” said Joel Jackson, a local wood carver who helped gather villagers to guard Mackenzie’s body and the crime scene that night. “And that upset me greatly. When there’s any fishing violation or hunting violation, they’re here in full force -- over a dead animal. To have one of our own laying there for (so long) was traumatic for everybody.”

With no police and few courts of their own, most Alaska Native villages instead are forced to rely on Alaska State Troopers. But there is only about one trooper per every million acres. Getting to rural communities can take days and is often delayed by the great distances to cover, the vagaries of the weather and -- in the minds of many Alaska Natives -- the low priority placed on protecting local tribes.

READ MORE: Murder in Kake highlights hard-to-come-by public safety in Alaska villages