A respected, longtime village public safety officer in Russian Mission killed himself Friday evening, Alaska State Troopers said.
Simeon Askoak, 50, was from the village and for the last 13 years served as its public safety officer, earning the rank of sergeant. He was highly trained and very capable, one of the very best village public safety officers, Alaska State Troopers said.
"It's a huge loss to law enforcement in the state of Alaska to lose someone like Simeon, and it's an even bigger loss to lose him as a friend," trooper Karl Main said from St. Marys, the trooper post that oversaw Askoak's work.
Authorities are certain that Askoak committed suicide but did not want to discuss any information that might explain why he took such a desperate path, troopers spokesman Greg Wilkinson said Saturday.
Between 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Askoak took his handgun, went about 100 yards from his home and shot himself once in the chest, according to initial findings from troopers.
Troopers in Bethel were notified around 8 p.m. that he had been found dead. Troopers from Aniak investigated the death, Main said. Askoak left a note saying that he was proud of and loved his family, Wilkinson said.
Askoak was married and had children, according to Main.
Trooper Lt. Pete Mlynarik and Sgt. Perry Barr traveled from Bethel to Russian Mission on Saturday to help the family, Wilkinson said. The Association of Village Council Presidents' VPSO coordinator also went to provide support.
"It's just a shame," Wilkinson said.
Village public safety officers are often the first to respond to trouble in villages without trooper posts. They aren't paid as much as troopers and don't carry firearms, but they can stabilize volatile situations and investigate minor crimes and even some felonies, with trooper oversight.
Russian Mission is a Yup'ik village of about 300 people on the Yukon River, about 70 miles northeast of Bethel.
Main had worked with Askoak since transferring to the St. Marys post in January 2004.
"He was the most approachable, one of the most hardworking VPSOs I've ever had the pleasure of meeting," Main said.
Askoak was friendly, liked to joke around and looked on the positive side of things, Main said. When troopers were in town, Askoak and his wife would bring them dinner.
But it was a hard job. Askoak recently had to investigate an immediate family member. He was supposed to calm down intoxicated people, stepping alone into volatile situations that urban police go into armed with backup.
In March, with Main bogged down on other cases, Askoak took the lead investigating a rash of burglaries in the Russian Mission area. When Main got to town, Askoak had made diagrams of the crime scenes and conducted preliminary interviews.
"The only thing I had to do was talk to the suspect, who he had already been able to identify," Main said.
Every case was like that, Main said. Askoak would meet troopers at the airport, drive them where they needed to go and let them know who would be helpful to talk to, Main said.
Lately, Askoak paid for the office heating fuel, long distance phone calls and faxes out of his own pocket because of local budget troubles, Main said.
"That was how serious he took the job," the trooper said.
Around 3 a.m. Friday, Askoak asked troopers for help with a combative, drunken man. But they couldn't get out there right away, and soon he called back and said the man's family had managed the situation.
"Simeon was someone who never ran away from it. He did what he needed to do," Main said.
In 1994, Askoak helped to organize a project intended to help curb teen suicide, alcoholism and pregnancy. The village received an $11,500 suicide prevention grant that year.
With his suicide, "it's obvious something was going on that some of us may not have been aware of," Main said.
Daily News reporter Lisa Demer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 257-4390.