People displaced in fatal apartment fire get cash gift; 'person of interest' located

Anchorage police on Thursday were able to speak with a "person of interest" sought in connection with the deadly Royal Suite Apartments fire last month, as displaced residents received a windfall donated by a local construction group.

In a brief statement Thursday, the Anchorage Police Department said detectives had been able to "locate and make contact" with 28-year-old Andrew John Eknaty, thanks to multiple tips received from the public.

APD spokesperson Renee Oistad said no one has been charged in connection with the fire, which is being investigated as both an arson and a homicide, as of Thursday afternoon. She declined to immediately provide details on where, when or how police caught up with Eknaty.

Three people died in the Feb. 15 fire at 3811 Minnesota Drive and more than a dozen others were injured. Over 30 residents were displaced.

Those displaced residents got some good news Thursday. A construction-industry group said it was donating $500 to each of the 30 households in the building. Anchorage Home Builders Association President Scott Allen announced the gift to tenants outside the burned building Thursday afternoon.

"This is a tragedy on a huge level," Allen said.

Bernard Walker, one of the first tenants to receive a check, at first only shook Allen's hand. He returned a moment later, however, and gave him a tearful embrace.

"This helps a lot," Walker told Allen. "Thank you."

Walker, who lived alone on the first floor, described his escape from the fire and subsequently watching his home burn until responders warned him off, saying he was standing too close.

"The fire alarm went off and like everyone else does, I opened the door to see what is going on – I looked to the right and the parking lot is fully engulfed in flames," Walker said. "I didn't grab my wallet, I didn't grab nothing; just the clothes on my back."

Since the fire, he said, he's been staying at a room at the Black Angus Inn in Fairview, but he's been apartment-hunting.

The check from AHBA, he said, is a step toward settling down again.

"I have to pay deposits and moving expenses, so it's a tremendous help," Walker said. "In fact, I don't know what I would do without that money."

Andrew Abyo, who lived in apartment 304 on the building's third floor with his wife and four children, said he was awakened by a fire alarm.

"There was no smoke and there was no smell of any smoke," Abyo said. "I was about to dismiss it but I heard a lot of loud hollering and screaming, so I looked out the door and the fire had already consumed most of (apartment) 303."

Abyo got his children out of the house, sending them along an outdoor walkway toward the rear of the building, because the front stairwell was ablaze.

"I hollered, 'Get out, get out, get out, get out,'" Abyo said. "The heat was already on us."

Abyo said that rather than stay at the Black Angus, his family has been living in  an apartment. He said he'd likely use Thursday's check for rent as he looks for a new home.

"I'd be in my car if it weren't for these people," Abyo said.

Walker, looking at the ruins of the building Thursday, said he was closely following news from police regarding detectives' investigation of the fire.

"If it was arson, I hope they find the person who did this and justice is served," Walker said. "What kind of person would do that? It's incomprehensible."

Chris Klint

Chris Klint is a former ADN reporter who covered breaking news.