Jaclyn Welcome’s life was marked by hardship. She struggled with mental health and addiction and fell into a toxic relationship that resulted in homelessness during recent years, her family said.
Welcome, 37, wanted to change her life and reconnect with family, “but she didn’t know how because she felt lost,” her sister Desiree Montenegro said.
Welcome was shot and killed early Saturday in a rage of gunfire that left four others critically wounded. Anthony Herring, 21, has been charged with first-degree murder in her death.
“My mom had plans of bringing Jaclyn home. I had plans of bringing Jaclyn home,” Montenegro said Monday. “We all did.”
Welcome was born in Anchorage but spent several years of her childhood living with family in Metlakatla in Southeast Alaska. She was the youngest of three girls. A brother was born when she was 10.
Her mother, Genevieve Nathan, described her as a mischievous child, and Montenegro said she would constantly play pranks on her siblings. Welcome loved her family and dreamed of a life spent helping others, Montenegro said. As she grew older, her dreams and priorities shifted toward motherhood, Montenegro said.
Welcome had six children, three boys and three girls. The children live now with Welcome’s father and her uncle, Montenegro said. She lost custody more than 10 years ago in connection with her mental health and substance use problems, Montenegro said.
“She was never the same after she lost the kids,” Nathan said through her daughter’s translation. Nathan is deaf and speaks using American Sign Language.
Welcome’s struggles with depression and addiction became more pronounced from that point on, Montenegro said. She tried to get help, but Montenegro said there were limited opportunities and options.
Montenegro said she has repeatedly tried to find room for her sister at inpatient mental health or substance abuse programs, but each time she was told that there was a waiting list and there wasn’t a bed for Welcome.
Court records show a small string of thefts beginning in 2003 to 2012. Welcome served time in jail for a felony burglary conviction. For a time after that, things appeared to look up, Montenegro said.
“She was out on probation, she was doing good, she had a job and she spent time with her kids,” she said.
Welcome fell back into a deep depression, Montenegro said.
During the last three years, things became much worse, her family said. Welcome became involved in what her mother and sister described as a toxic and abusive relationship, which led to homelessness. Her family worried constantly about her.
“The thing I struggle with is that she always had a home to go to,” Montenegro said. “She had my home, she had my dad’s home, she had my mom, she had my sister. ... My mom had plans to bring Jaclyn home. We all did.”
Welcome had experienced domestic abuse in several relationships throughout her life, which Montenegro said contributed to her depression and addiction.
Montenegro and Nathan stayed in contact with Welcome, constantly encouraging her to come home, they said. They would spend hours driving around town, talking to people at soup kitchens, homeless shelters or hotels in hopes of tracking down Welcome to provide her clothing, food, money and another opportunity to live with them.
The last times Montenegro saw her sister, their conversations centered on heartache. Their younger brother, 27-year-old Michael Mead, died unexpectedly at the end of May. Montenegro spent days searching for Welcome and hoped to find her before the June 11 funeral. She didn’t find her until the day after, when she told her about their brother’s death.
The sisters cried together and Montenegro told Welcome about how the rest of the family was doing, she said. She pried until Welcome would tell her how she could help or what she needed, she said.
Montenegro bought her a phone so her sister could call if she needed help or if she wanted to come home. She gave Welcome the phone Tuesday, the last time she ever saw her.
In the early hours of Saturday, Montenegro said, she got a call from her sister. When she answered, she heard muffled sounds and her sister’s voice saying her name. A series of thuds came across the line before it disconnected.
Montenegro called again with no answer. Welcome’s partner called back several minutes later and told her that Welcome had been shot and was at the hospital. Montenegro spent the next hour reaching out to hospitals searching for her sister.
Eventually, staff at Providence Alaska Medical Center told her to get to the hospital as soon as possible. Welcome had died during surgery, Montenegro said. She suffered a single gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Montenegro said she’s angry. The act of violence was senseless and evil, she said. Her family is heartbroken, she said.
And she’s mad because she feels like her sister was failed, she said. Had she been able to receive treatment for her problems maybe she would have been able to overcome some of her struggles, Montenegro said.
“Had they had a place to go, had there been more resources for these people to get help ... more patrolling in the area — everything could have helped. ... I feel like we’re failing.”
Montenegro said she wants people to know that her sister’s life mattered. Welcome was more than her struggles, she said, and her death has caused a wave of shock and heartache in their family.
Montenegro said she wanted to bring Welcome home and looked forward to a future where she could spend time with her family, with her kids.
“My sister doesn’t have the opportunity to reconnect with her family now. He robbed her of that,” Montenegro said.