Alaska News

Long before slaying at assisted living home, court saw accused killer as a danger

The state of Alaska was struggling to figure out what to do with Gilbert Nashookpuk years before police say he called 911 to say he'd killed his caregiver at a South Anchorage assisted living home earlier this month.

Nashookpuk, originally from Point Hope, had been dealt a difficult set of life circumstances.

He had a developmental disability and was "borderline functioning," according to testimony by a public guardian in court documents. He had been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. He suffered from seizures and had anger management and alcohol problems, the court testimony said.

From the time he turned 18, he'd been in trouble with the law for committing an escalating series of crimes while state guardians tried to keep him on medication and in stable housing. Often, he ran away from the places he was supposed to be living.

When Nashookpuk was accused of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman in Fairbanks in 2009, attorneys tried to have him sent to a program in Idaho specializing in treating developmentally disabled sex offenders instead of prison.

But a judge worried he was too violent to be transported safely on a commercial flight.

"His diminished mental capacity might contribute to his reduced ability to control his anger and his actions," the judge wrote in a bail decision denying the plan at the time. "The court concludes he is a danger to the public if he is not adequately controlled while being transported (to the facility)."


But by this month, Nashookpuk was living in very different circumstances.

His latest residence was the Eye to Eye assisted living home, a rust-colored two-story indistinguishable from other houses in a densely-packed South Anchorage neighborhood save for a surveillance camera trained on the driveway.

It was there the 25-year-old allegedly killed Glenna Wyllie, a 57-year-old health aide and grandmother who originally hailed from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Wyllie had lived in Anchorage since 2009, along with several of her children and grandchildren, and had developed a reputation as a loving caregiver at the homes in which she had worked.

Charging documents say that late on Nov. 6, Nashookpuk became angry at Wyllie for "nagging him" and "strangled, kicked and punched her to death," hiding her body behind a basement freezer and running away from the house on Viburnum Avenue, south of Dowling Road and east of the Seward Highway.

Wyllie was the second Anchorage assisted living caregiver in the span of 18 months to be killed on the job: In August 2014, Paul Miller, a resident of a small home in Midtown allegedly shot and killed Eduardo Escalante, an employee who had recently moved to Alaska from the Philippines.

Wyllie's death has raised a set of yet-unanswered questions about the vast but largely unseen world of assisted living homes, where the state or families often place people who need help with the daily activities of life, either because of a physical or developmental disability, mental illness, dementia or health problems associated with old age.

The state licenses roughly 640 assisted living homes around the state.

While figures are not available from the state, a small number of the people who live in such homes, like Gilbert Nashookpuk, have documented histories of violent behavior.

How much their caretakers and other residents know about their pasts is an open question: There are no regulatory requirements that assisted living homes request criminal history prior to admitting a new resident, said Dawnell Smith, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Health and Social Services.

'He's a safety risk'

Court records show state guardians tried to help Nashookpuk, but he still got into serious trouble.

The 2009 sexual assault charge came when he was accused of sexually assaulting a sleeping woman in whose home he was staying in Fairbanks.

The woman told police she woke up to Nashookpuk having sex with her and had to punch him in the face to get him off, according to charging documents. He was also implicated in a string of burglaries from Fairbanks businesses.

In a 2009 bail hearing, attorneys, Nashookpuk's legal guardian and others gathered to discuss his future.

Attorneys argued Nashookpuk needed therapy available only outside Alaska, not prison.

The plan was to send him to the Belmont Center, a Pocatello, Idaho facility that specializes in treatment of developmentally disabled sex offenders. Three other Alaskans had apparently also been placed there for such treatment, according to court transcripts.

If Nashookpuk successfully completed five years at the center, the court could give him "time served" credit for completing his sentence for the sex assault, according to a transcript from a change of plea hearing.

But if he failed the program, he'd be sent back to prison.


The judge overseeing the case at the time discussed his worries about even allowing Nashookpuk to be transported to the facility in Idaho via a commercial flight, escorted by two third-party custodians.

"I don't think the plan to get him to Belmont is adequate," said Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle at the hearing. "He has anger management problems as testified. He's a safety risk and can become violent."

The custodians proposed to help move him "don't have the strength to restrain him," he said, adding that the court "has to consider the risk of the flying public."

Security at the Belmont Center was discussed at the hearing, too. At the center, Nashookpuk would have someone "at arm's' length" outside his door every evening, the administrator testified.

Ultimately, the judge thought it was too risky to move Nashookpuk to Idaho.

In 2010, Fairbanks Superior Court Judge Randy Olsen approved the plan.

From there, it's not clear what happened in Idaho -- or if Nashookpuk ever even made it there. But there's a three-year pause in his Alaska criminal history.

Court records show that by the end of 2013, before the five years he was supposed to spend in Idaho was up, he was in trouble for felony criminal mischief in Seward and then more outbursts of violence at the Anchorage jail.


Charging documents from Dec. 2013 say he threatened a jail nurse who didn't have time to talk to him, saying he'd "f---ing make her have time," then punched a guard and shoved him down some stairs in an attempt to get to the woman.

Around the same time he was also charged with destroying a jail sprinkler system.

It is not clear from court records whether Nashookpuk served the entire sentence for the 2009 sex assault, plus the sentences from other convictions he subsequently picked up. The conditions of his release are also unclear.

The next place Nashookpuk is known to have lived is the Eye to Eye Assisted Living Home, which is licensed to house and care for five adults with developmental or mental disabilities.

As for why Nashookpuk ended up at that specific facility, people are placed into assisted living homes through a "complex process that relies on many different sources of information and many different agencies, much of which is based on individual medical and health information, and individual home characteristics and decisions," wrote Jane Urbanovsky of DHSS' residential licensing program in an email.

Ultimately, home administrators decide who they want to admit, said Smith, the DHSS spokeswoman.

History of complaints

Eye to Eye is one of three such homes owned by an Anchorage woman named Margaret Williams. She could not be reached by phone for this story.

State licensing records show her assisted living homes -- Eye to Eye, Eye to Eye 2 and Flamingo House -- have been the subject of numerous complaints and investigations by state licensing authorities in recent years.

In 2014, investigators documented filthy bathrooms covered in mildew and kitchen countertops growing mold, as well as resident mattresses stained with urine and feces.

In a separate investigation, inspectors found that residents at Eye to Eye and Flamingo House were being locked inside the home, against state rules for assisted living homes.

At Eye to Eye 2, an investigation in May found the home wasn't properly monitoring people living there after one resident wandered away in the middle of the night before being picked up by police.

Williams promised to fix the problems.


It's not known exactly how long Nashookpuk lived at Eye to Eye before he allegedly attacked Glenna Wyllie. The home is still operating, according to DHSS. But it is again the subject of a state investigation.

Nashookpuk is back at the Anchorage jail, this time facing charges of first-degree murder.

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.