Alaska News

In Alaska, a cluster of family murder-suicides leads to anguish and mystery

Investigators in Fairbanks said Tuesday that autopsies confirm the four people found dead in a hotel room Friday died from gunshot wounds, supporting their earlier contention that the deaths were the result of a murder-suicide.

But they have not said what they believe led McKay Hutton — a young father with no criminal record — to kill his wife, infant daughter and mother at a Hampton Inn the day after Thanksgiving in the Interior city.

If other recent Alaska cases of family murder-suicides are a guide, they may never know.

What researchers call "familicide,"  where a perpetrator kills one or more family members, are "mercifully rare" according to a National Institute of Justice publication examining the phenomenon. Rarer yet are those that involve children.

Nationally, about 1,000-1,500 people die each year in homicide-suicides, according to 2015 study. Most involve a man killing a current or former girlfriend or wife. About 13 percent of the victims are children.

Over the past three years, Alaska has seen a cluster of killings in which a father or stepfather is believed to have killed his wife or girlfriend and a child or children. In the Fairbanks case, Hutton is suspected also to have killed his mother.

In each of the recent Alaska cases, four people have died, including the perpetrator.

Each of the incidents happened in a different region of the state — the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage and Fairbanks.

In May 2014, Rebecca Adams, 23; her two children, Michelle Hundley, 6, and Jaracca Hundley, 3; and Adams' boyfriend Brandon Jividen, 37, went missing from their apartment in Kenai. Their remains were found in a wooded area near their apartment in March 2015. In June of that year police announced that they believed that Adams and her daughters had been killed by Jividen in a murder-suicide.

In May 2015, Curtis Young III, 24, killed his girlfriend Desiree Gonzalez, 27, and their two children, 17-month-old Zarielle and 4-year-old Zaiden, according to police. He then killed himself.

And on Friday, police arrived at a Hampton Inn on the outskirts of Fairbanks to find a still-unidentified man crying in a hallway and the bodies of McKay Hutton, 22, his wife Emily McDonald, 22, their newborn daughter Teagan, 8 weeks, and Hutton's mother Linda Hutton, 54. Fairbanks police say they believe Hutton fatally shot his mother, wife and daughter and then turned the gun on himself.

 

The most extreme form of domestic violence

Experts call such murder-suicides the most extreme form of domestic violence.

They are difficult to study because they are so rare — little data exists tracking them, said Jacquelyn Campbell, a national leader in the field of domestic violence research and a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.

But some risk factors are associated with such crimes.

In cases studied using data from the Centers for Disease Control's National Violent Death Reporting System, men were the killers 91 percent of the time. In 88 percent of cases, a gun was used.

"Gun in the house is one of the strongest risk factors for (domestic violence) homicide," Campbell said.

Usually, some form of domestic violence has happened already, Campbell said. But often authorities don't know about it.  In one study of murder-suicides with female victims, only a quarter of the cases had seen prior domestic violence lead to an arrest.

In the case of Desiree Gonzalez and her children, previous abuse had been reported to police. But in the Kenai and Fairbanks cases, the victims had not previously filed for protective orders or otherwise reported violence to police, according to records.

"Oftentimes, a woman is trying desperately to make this relationship work so there's a father for the kids," Campbell said.

 

Hints of trouble 

In the Fairbanks case, there were hints of trouble.

Destiny Buonacorsi met Emily McDonald at Hutchison High School in Fairbanks. Both had babies young and became close friends, meeting up at parks to let their toddlers play, taking them trick-or-treating together.

But when McDonald, who worked as a nursing aide in North Pole, started dating Hutton in 2015, she and Buonacorsi grew apart. McDonald got a new phone number and the couple moved back in with her parents, Buonacorsi said.

"It was just kind of weird that she was backtracking like that," she said.

Outwardly, Hutton gushed about McDonald on Facebook. But McDonald privately admitted to problems, according to her friend.

"She would tell me he would say really mean things to her," Buonacorsi said. "I'd say, 'Why do you stay with him?' and she'd say, 'Because he loves me; he's going through some pain right now.'"

In May, "she told me she was sleeping in her car because they got into an argument," Buonacorsi said.

Every time Buonacorsi saw him, Hutton was open-carrying a handgun — not unusual in Fairbanks.

The friends last spoke around May. When she heard the news last week that four people had been found dead in a Fairbanks hotel room, Buonacorsi said she was struck with a sick feeling that McDonald might be one.

 

Unanswerable

Much harder to unravel in family murder-suicides is the biggest question: Why? Because the perpetrator is dead, there are no criminal proceedings to unravel the circumstances surrounding the tragedy.

Police in two of the Alaska cases say they were never able to definitively establish a motive for the killings.

In the case of Desiree Gonzalez, there was a previous history of abuse. Her father told Alaska Dispatch News at the time that he had advised his daughter to stay away from Young.

But police still  don't know what happened on that day that led to the slayings.

Detectives interviewed family members and friends in search of a motive but "ultimately we were never able to develop a motive in this case," said Jennifer Castro, spokeswoman with the Anchorage Police Department.

In the Kenai case, investigators tried mightily to learn everything they could about Brandon Jividen's life, said Lt. Ben Langham with the Kenai Police Department.

They know the basic outline: He was from West Virginia and moved to Alaska after serving in the military. He was an outdoorsman who hunted and fished.

"I can tell you we turned over basically every rock there was. I feel like I have a very good idea of who he was," Langham said.

Evidence found at the scene led police to the conclusion that Jividen had ended up in a wooded clearing near their apartment, where he turned a gun on his girlfriend, her children and even the family dog.

But they still don't know why.

"I think that's frustrating for the families and the community and the police — at the end of the day to see … we have these tragic events and we can't tell you why," said Langham.

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