For years, Don Nelson spent Thanksgiving at the table of his longtime Anchorage friends David Robinson and Mickie Karr.
This year will be very different.
Nelson, 72, was bludgeoned in the head with a hammer by a group of teenagers that broke into his small cabin in Mountain View on Sept. 16, according to court documents.
News of the attack on the retired audio engineer sparked an outpouring of community support, from people who fed his cats to a donation fund started by a stranger in Wisconsin.
Two months later, Nelson remains at St. Elias Specialty Hospital, a long-term care facility in Anchorage.
He’s on a feeding tube, but can mumble a few words, point and say the year of his birth, said Robinson, who is now his court-appointed guardian. He is not expected to fully recover.
“There’s no old Don there,” Robinson said. “My friend is gone.”
The teenagers have now been arrested in the case.
Ieti Miracle Lelilio, 18, faces a slew of charges including felony assault in connection with the attack against Nelson and other assaults on the same night. Four others have been charged as juveniles, which means their names will not be released, said Anchorage Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer Castro.
“I thought it would have been adults that did this,” said Robinson. “But it was kids.”
Robinson said he has known Nelson for 20 years. They rode electric bikes together.
“Even at 72, he’d ride 35 miles in a day,” Robinson said. “He liked to get into the woods.”
He called Nelson a quirky pacifist who lived without a TV or microwave and spent most of his time puttering around the garden, tinkering with electronics, feeding feral cats and having conversations with anyone who might engage. For a time he worked as a radio engineer and announcer for public radio station KSKA.
In recent years, he grew a small amount of marijuana in the back room of his house, Robinson said. An arrest warrant for Lelilio said the teenagers stole $50 of marijuana and a pipe from Nelson’s cabin after the hammer attack.
As Nelson’s court-appointed guardian, Robinson is charged with taking care of his friend’s financial affairs and finding him a permanent assisted-living home.
Nelson’s cats are being sent to a no-kill shelter in Anchorage where they will be put up for adoption, Robinson said. Nelson’s Mountain View property will likely be sold.
The home was paid off, and Nelson didn’t have much money. But he didn’t feel safe there, even before the attack.
“He felt insecure in his home, very much so at the end,” Robinson said.
Robinson said he is angry when he thinks of the future Nelson is facing.
Michelle Theriault Boots is a reporter who covers news and features about life in Alaska, and has been focusing on corrections and psychiatric care issues in the state. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.