Crime & Courts

Wilson charged with kidnapping, sex abuse and murder of 10-year-old Ashley Johnson-Barr

The Kotzebue man accused of lying to the FBI about the Sept. 6 disappearance of Ashley Johnson-Barr has now been charged with kidnapping and killing the fifth-grade girl.

Prosecutors filed the new state charges against Peter Vance Wilson, 41, on Monday in Kotzebue. He is accused of sexually abusing and strangling Ashley the night she vanished.

The cheery 10-year-old's disappearance prompted a citywide, eight-day search that ended with the discovery of her body on the tundra, more than 2 miles from a playground where she was last seen.

Investigators say they linked Wilson to the crime through DNA evidence, witness interviews and surveillance footage. The resulting charges detail a horrific killing in the Northwest Arctic city of 3,200. Wilson was charged last week with lying to federal investigators.

Here is what happened, according to a criminal complaint filed by the Office of Special Prosecutions:

Caught on camera

Wilson began a weeks-long drinking binge over the summer, his cousin told the Daily News, and he had been drifting among three or more Kotzebue homes. Wilson was staying at one of the homes Sept. 6 when, around 5:20 p.m., a woman asked him to drive a four-wheeler to Rainbow Park and pick up two children.


Meanwhile, a friend saw Ashley, who had been playing at the park, walking away from the playground around 6 p.m.

[Related: 'She knew who he was': Unified by loss, Kotzebue puzzles over arrest in child homicide case]

Authorities used data from Ashley's cellphone to pinpoint where she traveled. The phone appeared to move 2 miles southeast of Kotzebue over the next hour, between 6 and 7 p.m., along a miles-long loop out of town.

At the Devil's Lake water reservoir, a surveillance camera caught footage of a man and a girl on a four-wheeler at 6:06 p.m. The girl appeared to be wearing a pink sweatshirt, just like the Nike sweatshirt Ashley wore when she disappeared, the charges say.

"The ATV is seen making several detours off the road, to the north and south sides, and then returning to the main road; the camera then loses sight of the ATV as it travels south from the road," the charges say.

'Attempted to hide his face'

By about 8 p.m., cellphone data showed that Ashley's phone was back in town, according to the charges. Ashley never came home.

Her father, Scotty Barr, told investigators that the girl did not show up for her 8:30 p.m. curfew. The family called her cellphone but no one answered. They began searching town.

Wilson soon reappeared at the home where he had been staying. He was intoxicated and acting strangely, witnesses told police.

"(The witness) reported that Wilson was acting unusually quiet and that he passed out soon after arriving at her residence," the charges say.

Around midnight — hours after Ashley was last seen alive — a woman in the home where Wilson was staying heard a ringing sound. She looked in Wilson's jacket. There, in the pocket, was Ashley's phone.

The witness called Ashley's parents. Scotty Barr retrieved the phone and spoke with Wilson.

"Wilson attempted to hide his face with his arm (during the conversation)," the charges say. Wilson told Barr that he had found the phone near the NANA building in town, not far from Rainbow Park.

Wilson later repeated that claim to investigators, saying he spotted the phone on the ground and didn't notice Ashley's name on the lock screen. He denied hearing the phone ring despite multiple calls from Ashley's family.

He denied knowing Ashley, although Ashley's uncle, Wayne Johnson, told the Daily News that Wilson had been to the girl's house multiple times. The federal charges said Wilson was related to the child.

Investigators found what appeared to be blood on the rear panel of the four-wheeler Wilson had been driving the night Ashley disappeared, the charges say.

After more than a week of searching, a volunteer discovered Ashley's body about 1,800 feet off of Devil's Lake Road, in an area obscured by thick brush and vegetation. Someone walking in that area "could easily receive scrapes and other injuries from tree branches and other vegetation," the charges say.


Investigators noted that Wilson was covered in scrapes, bruises and cuts.

DNA evidence, charges say

Ashley was found in a sunken area, half-dressed. The charges describe extensive evidence of sexual assault, based on the medical examiner's Sept. 15 autopsy, with cause of death labeled as asphyxia due to obstruction of her airway and constriction of her neck. Defensive wounds covered her hands.

DNA found on the girl's body matched Wilson, the charges say. It was unclear Monday if that DNA has been linked to any other criminal cases in Alaska.

In previously filed federal charges, investigators said Wilson lied about key elements in the case, falsely claiming, for example, that he found the phone on the ground when he in fact took it directly from the girl.

The Office of Special Prosecutions and the U.S. Attorney's office have been working together on the case.

"A close working relationship with our federal partners allowed swift action in this matter," said state Criminal Division Director John Skidmore. "We will continue discussions moving forward to ensure both offices can pursue charges to hold the offender accountable and make Alaska a safer place."

Wilson was in custody at a pretrial facility in Anchorage early Monday, according to an online offender database. He is expected to make a first court appearance on the state charges Tuesday in Kotzebue.

His trial on the federal charge of making false statements to a federal agent is scheduled for Nov. 19. Read the federal charge here.

Kyle Hopkins

Kyle Hopkins is special projects editor of the Anchorage Daily News. He was the lead reporter on the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lawless" project and is part of an ongoing collaboration between the ADN and ProPublica's Local Reporting Network. He joined the ADN in 2004 and was also an editor and investigative reporter at KTUU-TV. Email