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Crime & Courts

After recent burst of violence, Anchorage is on pace to exceed homicide record

Some of Anchorage's 2019 homicide victims: from left, Tony Susook, Brenda Smalley, Javon Diggs, and Salisa Loucks. (Photos courtesy Susook family, gunmemorial.org)

On Monday morning, Janice Susook read that a man named Martin Kignak had been arrested on murder charges for stomping and punching a man along a major street running through Midtown Anchorage. It was the latest in a string of Anchorage homicides.

“My heart just dropped,” she said. “I just knew it.”

Her little brother, Tony Susook, had just turned 27 but had the hollow-faced look of someone older because of years of methamphetamine and alcohol addiction. He had been inseparable from Kignak for years, she said. Both originally from North Slope villages, they had more recently ricocheted between Anchorage homeless shelters, cheap motels and urban camps, often together.

Tony, known as “Baby Tone” to his family, had confessed that sometimes his friend Martin tried to beat him up, Susook said.

Toward the end of March, he had come to his older sister’s house because he was sick from a dangerous infection in his leg. After she took him to the hospital, he spent a few days recovering at her home. He’d slept, showered and rested, a respite from his life on the street with Kignak.

“We just caught up on everything going on in our lives,” she said.

Janice had wanted her brother to stay longer. But Tony said he wanted to go out and party with Kignak, who had been staying at the Chelsea Inn, a Spenard motel, Susook said. It was March 27, the day before Tony’s birthday.

“When I woke up the next morning, he was gone,” she said.

Four days later, early Monday morning, Kignak stomped and punched Tony Susook to death near Benson Boulevard, police said, and then dragged his body to the parking lot of the Anchorage Midtown Walmart, where police discovered them.

Susook was the 10th person killed in a homicide in Anchorage in roughly the first three months of 2019. He was the second person killed since Saturday night. And by the end of Monday, another man would be dead, this time at the hands of Anchorage police. And more shootings have occurred since, including one early Thursday that left a woman lying in a Midtown street with a life-threatening gunshot injury.

The spasm of violence puts Anchorage on pace to surpass a grim record set in 2017, when 35 people died in homicides in Alaska’s biggest city.

Beyond the 10 homicides, police have classified two other deaths as “suspicious” but haven’t officially determined whether they are homicides. Two men have also died in what police call “officer-involved shootings”: 31-year-old Bishar Hassan and 23-year-old Dylan Aikey. Hassan brandished a BB gun that looked like a real handgun and was shot to death Monday night, police said. Aikey fired at officers, according to police.

Don’t pay too much attention to the numbers, said Sgt. Bianca Cross, the new head of the Anchorage Police Department’s homicide unit.

The common factor in virtually all of this year’s killings: As in the case of Martin Kignak and Tony Susook, the killer knew the victim.

“These were isolated incidents," Cross said. "The people knew each other, one way or another.”

Drugs appear to be another common thread through many of the year’s homicide cases, according to Cross.

“There’s a drug element to almost every one,” she said, though she declined to give details.

Here’s what we know about the homicides so far this year: The first was Omar Mandour, a 24-year-old shot with a gun being passed around at an apartment party in Fairview on Jan. 21. Police considered it a homicide, but prosecutors dropped charges against the woman who pulled the trigger.

On Jan. 29, police got an anonymous tip that there might be a man dead in a Midtown apartment, Cross said. When they arrived, they found that Steven John, 36, had been dead in the apartment for days — and other people were in the apartment with him. John had “trauma to the body,” according to police. No one has been arrested.

On Feb. 3, Brenda Smalley’s husband shot her and then himself in the bathroom of an East Anchorage house. He died. The 46-year-old lived for a few hours more before dying at the hospital.

The next day, Salisa Loucks, 30, was found in a Jeep parked on a Fairview street on a snowy night, shot in the head. Police immediately labeled her death “drug related” but haven’t said why. Terrance Paleka Jr. was charged with her murder.

On Feb. 16, Javon Diggs was shot six times in the chest in a hallway at the Barratt Inn on Spenard Road, where he lived and worked. His family told a TV station he was a father of five who was trying to make good on past mistakes.

Theandrea Luster, 20, was charged with murder.

One of the most mysterious homicides this year is that of 31-year-old Ryan “Charlie” Cannon, who on Feb. 17 was found beaten in a parking lot off 36th Avenue near Spenard Road. He’d been dead for a while, and police don’t know who did it. The case remains open.

On March 7, Dylan Aikey fired at police when they caught him burglarizing a car in the Airport Heights neighborhood. They shot back at him, killing the 23-year-old.

The same day, Katelyn Sours, a 22-year-old from Kotzebue, was beaten by her boyfriend so badly at a Spenard apartment that she stopped breathing. Henry Bailey of Noatak is charged with her murder.

In a killing that shocked the city, 3-year-old Brooklyn Jackson was found stabbed to death in her car seat at Point Woronzof on March 13. Her mother, a former South Anchorage High School basketball player, had exhibited bizarre behavior in the months before the killing that prompted her father — Brooklyn’s grandfather — to at one point seek a restraining order. Kelsey Jo Jackson, 24, is now charged with murder in her daughter’s death.

Tion Price, a 19-year-old from Texas, was shot at a Saturday night gathering at a home in East Anchorage. Police are still investigating and haven’t arrested anyone.

Cross, the police detective, says despite her urging for the public not to focus on numbers, even one person killed by violence in Anchorage in a year is too many.

Janice Susook says her family has been plunged into a world nobody wants to enter: dealing with the violent death of a loved one. Tony was one of eight siblings, she said, and everybody is dealing with it in their own way. She wishes her brother could have found a way to stay away from Kignak and the street life they shared.

“When he said Martin had hurt him before, me and my mom, we kept telling him — that’s not your friend if he’s hurting you, don’t go back to him,” Susook said. “But he was just the type to forgive."

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