Alaska News

From 2001: 3 arrested in shooting of Stebbins mayor

NOTE: This story was originally published Nov. 30, 2001.

Alaska State Troopers have arrested one man and two teens in Stebbins in what they say was a plot to kill the village mayor and his wife and rob their general store.

Mayor Robert Ferris, 55, survived being hit in the face with a .22-caliber bullet fired through his window late Saturday night. Robert Tea, 20, Richard Martin, 16, and Travis Snowball, 14, are charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

Stebbins is a village of about 550 people on Norton Sound, about 120 miles southeast of Nome. John Merculief, the village public safety officer, said he can't remember such a serious crime in the 20 years he's lived there.

''People just can't believe it, that juveniles this young would go to that extent, to shooting another person with a rifle,'' Merculief said.

According to charging documents filed by Nome district attorney John Vacek, Tea is accused of giving the two teens a .22-caliber rifle and helping Martin tape a shampoo bottle to the muzzle as a makeshift silencer. Then Martin and Snowball went to Ferris' house, which doubles as the town's general store, and Martin knocked on the window, the documents state.

When Ferris opened the window, charging documents state, Snowball shot him in the face. Then the two teens fled, scared by what they had done, the documents state.


Ferris was recovering at home Thursday after several days at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. The bullet is lodged near his spine, but Ferris said he didn't immediately realize he had been shot. He thought at first that someone had hit him with a rock.

''A .22 rimfire does not have a whole lot of energy,'' he said. ''It's logical I wouldn't get knocked down.''

Ferris said he didn't learn he had been shot until hospital X-rays revealed the bullet, he said. It is too close to his spine to be safely removed, doctors told him, but leaving it there won't do him any harm.

''For being unlucky enough to be shot in the head, I couldn't have been luckier,'' Ferris said.

Martin and Snowball were arrested on Sunday after Tea told troopers the two had told him about their plot to kill the Ferrises and rob them for money to buy drugs, charging documents state. Tea was arrested on Wednesday after Martin told troopers he was in on the plot, the documents state.

Snowball and Tea were already being investigated for an August burglary of Ferris' store, said Vacek, the Nome prosecutor. Authorities believe Snowball broke into the store and split the stolen money with Tea, Vacek said.

Tea served as a village police officer in Stebbins for several months last year, Ferris said, though he had a criminal record.

''I was not very fond of that idea in the first place,'' Ferris said, but ''in a place like this you take any help you can get.''

Tea served short jail sentences for convictions of assault and cruelty to animals in 1999 and 2000, said Bruce Richards, a special assistant with the state Department of Corrections.

Village police officers are employed by the village and are distinct from village public safety officers, who are trained and supported by the Alaska State Troopers, said Stebbins VPSO Merculief.

Ferris said Tea ''didn't do much of a job as a cop'' but was not under pressure to resign when he quit the job last year.

Snowball lived with his adoptive father some of the time and with Tea and his wife some of the time, said Jean Ferris, Robert Ferris' wife and city administrator.

''His adoptive mother died several years ago,'' she said. ''He's had kind of a hard life.''

Neither Snowball's father nor Tea's wife would comment when reached by telephone Thursday.

Tea and Martin are being held at Anvil Mountain Correctional Center in Nome, Tea in lieu of $50,000 cash-only bail and Martin in lieu of $25,000 cash-only bail. Martin was waived into adult court because of the seriousness of his crime, Vacek said.

Snowball is being held at the Nome Youth Facility. His name was released under a 1998 law that allows authorities to identify juveniles charged with certain serious felonies, Vacek said.

Ferris came to Stebbins in 1968 from Vermont, married Jean in 1969 and opened a store in 1970. He has served on the city council and as mayor on and off for the past 30 years. Merculief said he is popular.


''He loans people his personal tools without questioning, and sometimes he'll loan money to people in time of need,'' Merculief said.

Reporter Jeff St. John can be reached at and 907-257-4205.