Alaska News

Remembering Destry Murphy, not 'some homeless guy'

When a sheriff rang the doorbell at Lenny Patterson's Indiana home at 1:30 a.m. Thursday and asked about his 23-year-old son, Destry Murphy, Patterson shut the door behind him to speak in private.

"There is only one reason police show up at your house at 1:30 in the morning, asking about your children," Patterson said.

The discovery of Murphy's body at a homeless camp near Campbell Park at 46th Avenue and Folker Street in East Anchorage Wednesday evening was the first of three outdoor deaths in Anchorage in a 12-hour span.

Police said there was no evidence of foul play in Murphy's death or in the death of Harry Oxereok, Jr., who was discovered near Third Avenue and Karluk Street in downtown Anchorage. Investigators are waiting for the autopsy report to be completed to determine the circumstances of the third death.

On Monday, around 7 p.m., the body of another man was also discovered near the Lucky Wishbone restaurant off Fifth Avenue in downtown Anchorage, police spokesperson Renee Oistad said. There was no sign of foul play.

At this time, police said, there is no indication their deaths are related and all of the men appeared to be "homeless."

But Patterson took issue with labeling his son as "some homeless guy."


"He didn't have a permanent address, so maybe by definition he was, but he wasn't homeless," Patterson said. "He couch surfed. He wasn't just some homeless guy or a statistic like some news outlets made him sound."

Back to Alaska

As Patterson spoke about his son he often paused, took deep breaths, faintly whimpered and then apologized, as he shared the details of his son's life. Many of the stories Patterson told about his son's journeys ended in Anchorage.

Born in Florida, Murphy moved to Oregon and then to Anchorage as a child, where he was enrolled in local schools. In 2008, Patterson said, the family moved to Lafayette, Indiana, where Murphy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

Two years later, Murphy dropped out of school, ran away from home and flew back to Alaska on a ticket an old friend had purchased using a Permanent Fund dividend check.

"He was 17 when he ran away," Patterson said. "He was being rebellious. He was such a good diabetic for about a year and a half, then it made him really angry because his life was different. He had to have shots, take insulin, (and) he couldn't eat the same things as his friends."

The Lafayette Journal & Courier in Indiana reported on July 21, 2010, that Murphy -- who also went by Destry Patterson -- had been reported missing in the spring of that year. The report said he was discovered in July 2010 by Anchorage police, who stopped him while he was walking down a road in the middle of the night, but Murphy had turned 18 by then and was no longer considered a runaway.

About a month later, Murphy landed himself in legal troubles and was charged with first-degree burglary and second-degree theft.

Patterson said his son spent nearly a year incarcerated in Fairbanks, but when he was done with his time his family brought him back to Indiana. There he was able to receive his GED and enrolled in college.

"He was doing really well when we brought him home," Patterson said. "He got into college, but then he dropped out and started running with the same idiot friends."

In the spring of 2014, Murphy moved to Honolulu, where he'd been accepted into a culinary program, but he stayed only a few months.

"He was very lonely and very homesick," Patterson said. "The friends he made there were hard core partiers and that wasn't what he wanted, so he flew back to Anchorage on July 5."

Murphy never left Alaska again.

Sick and alone: A father's 'worst nightmare'

Like all four outdoor deaths in Anchorage this week, the cause of Murphy's death hasn't yet been released by police. All of the bodies were sent to the State Medical Examiner's Office for autopsies.

But Patterson believes that his son's diabetes was likely a factor in his son's death, if not the cause.

"His diabetes was very much out of control," Patterson said. "From the time he was 15 he went back to the hospital every three months. Here at the end, he was in the ICU every three weeks for three or four days. He's gone into diabetic coma three times."

The last time Patterson spoke to his son was in early July. In the days leading up to Murphy's death, Patterson said, he began to grow worried, so he started calling local hospitals.

But he never was able to make contact. The only news he received about his son's whereabouts was Thursday morning, when the sheriff was at his doorstep.


Investigators told Patterson they only found a couple of things that belonged to Murphy at the scene; the clothes he was wearing and his insulin. But they also told him that Murphy was found alone -- a concept that didn't sit well for Patterson.

"One of the things that is really bothersome was how he was found," Patterson said. "Destry was very social -- incredibly social. He doesn't go places alone. He would not go to a tent in the woods alone."

Patterson's theory is that his son began to have a diabetic crash and may have gone into another diabetic coma.

"That indicates to me that whoever's camp it was, a friend or a friend of a friends, they might have been sitting there partying or drinking. When he starts to get sick he becomes unresponsive. If people are out drinking or smoking pot, and they see this, they don't want to deal with it because they're doing bad things.

"That is what is killing me," Patterson said. "He was alone at the end. I want to believe he had already fallen asleep, (and) he wasn't afraid when he died. That is what I want to believe."

On more than one occasion, Patterson said, his son was dropped off at public locations so Murphy could call for help himself. But this time Murphy didn't have a phone of his own to use, Patterson said.

Patterson plans to cremate his son, which was Murphy's request during a conversation they had a couple of years ago, when Murphy woke up from a diabetic coma that doctors said he shouldn't have survived.

Patterson hopes to make his way to Anchorage by Monday, if he can gather enough airline miles and money. He said he'll likely hold a private ceremony.

"This is the worst kind of nightmare. Thursday was the longest day of my life. I talked to him on Father's Day and he got to tell his sisters and his mother that he loved them. And I'm thankful for that."

Megan Edge

Megan Edge is a former reporter for Alaska Dispatch and Alaska Dispatch News.