Crime & Courts

Alaska artist Riba DeWilde shot and killed in Tok; son in custody

Well-known Athabascan artist Riba DeWilde was shot and killed at her home in the Tok area Saturday, according to Alaska State Troopers, and her son is accused of her murder.

Troopers in Tok, about 200 miles southeast of Fairbanks, received a report around 7:47 a.m. Saturday that DeWilde, 51, was dead and went to her home to investigate, troopers wrote in an online dispatch.

"Investigation determined that (DeWilde) was shot by a family member and succumbed to her injuries," troopers said.

Eli Simpson, 21, of Tok, was arrested on murder charges. According to a Sunday report from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Simpson came to the Tok trooper post and reported his mother's death. An affidavit in the case said DeWilde was shot four times with a rifle, and Simpson told troopers he shot his mother in self-defense and that she had been abusing him since he was a child, according to the News-Miner.

DeWilde, a Koyukon Athabascan artist originally from Huslia, was known for her beadwork, carving and doll-making. In a short profile on the crafts website Etsy, DeWilde said she was born in a log cabin on the Yukon River outside of Ruby. 

Her work "exists in private and public collections throughout Alaska," according to a 2015 Anchorage Museum newsletter that featured a necklace made of moose and marten bone and porcupine quills. Her work frequently incorporated materials from animals of Alaska.

On Facebook, DeWilde chronicled her life making art, picking berries, hunting and tending her trapline in her corner of Interior Alaska.

Simpson was arraigned Sunday in Fairbanks. About a dozen family members were in the courtroom, according to the News-Miner. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for Dec. 7.

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.