Alaska News

Kodiak 7-year-old was found dead miles from home on Pillar Mountain, troopers say

A 7-year-old Kodiak boy whose disappearance spurred a widespread search and an outpouring of community support was found dead Sunday several miles from home, eight days after he went missing.

Sawyer Cipolla, last seen at his Forest Drive home May 7, was found near the Kodiak Electric Association wind turbine power project on Pillar Mountain, Alaska State Troopers spokesman Austin McDaniel said Monday.

Cipolla’s body was about 3 1/2 miles as the crow flies from his family’s house, McDaniel said. The distance by road is nearly twice that.

Two people conducting a bird survey Sunday afternoon spotted the boy’s remains through binoculars, he said.

Thousands of volunteers spent the last week searching for Cipolla, who was on the autism spectrum. Search coordinators estimated in a briefing Saturday that more than 2,500 people spent days combing through brush, trails and steep terrain in a roughly 15-square-mile area.

Numerous agencies, including law enforcement, rescue groups from Anchorage and the Mat-Su, as well as the U.S. Navy SEALs and U.S. Coast Guard, aided in the search. Searches were conducted by plane, drone, boat and dog teams.

Search efforts were narrowed Saturday after no new leads emerged through the week.

Law enforcement agencies conducted a criminal investigation into Cipolla’s disappearance but did not find anything to indicate he had been murdered or abducted, Lt. Brent Johnson said during a public briefing Saturday. Johnson is the deputy commander for the troopers’ C Detachment covering Western Alaska.

When the boy’s body was found Sunday afternoon, troopers said, there were no obvious signs of foul play at the scene. The State Medical Examiner’s Office will conduct an autopsy.

Pillar Mountain had been searched by volunteer ground teams and dogs, McDaniel said, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the area near the wind turbines had been searched.

Troopers, as part of their death investigation, will “determine if that specific area had been searched, and when it was searched,” he said.

The Kodiak community, as well as people around the country, watched as the search unfolded last week, expressing prayers for the Cipolla family and hopes the boy would somehow be found alive. Nearly 4,500 people followed a Facebook page dedicated to providing updates about the search.

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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