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Crime & Courts

Prison farm escapee raided cabins for weeks before his arrest Monday, troopers say

PALMER -- Brian Church walked away from the Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm in mid-April and apparently made his way on foot up to Willow before being arrested this week.

Brian Church escaped the Point MacKenzie Correctional Farm in April, Alaska State Troopers say.

Church, 59, broke into at least three cabins but took only survival supplies and left behind any alcohol or weapons he may have found inside, Alaska State Troopers say.

He was arrested Monday at a cabin within Nancy Lake State Recreation Area after keeping Susitna Valley residents on edge for three weeks.

The arrest marks the second time the convicted felon walked away from incarceration and the third accusation he broke into remote cabins.

Church was convicted of break-ins of cabins from Big Lake to Willow in 2003 after arriving in the area in a car stolen from Anchorage during another burglary, charging documents show. The suspect left behind hand-rolled cigarettes.

Church started a prison sentence in 2003 and was incarcerated until October 2012 -- when he walked away from an Anchorage halfway house and embarked on another series of cabin break-ins, this time along the Yentna River. He was caught after 10 days.

A sworn affidavit in that case shed light on his motives.

“Church stated he was just trying to get away and the reason he broke into places was for survival (even though he was going away from civilization),” Trooper Tage Toll wrote in a 2012 affidavit.

Before his most recent spate of alleged break-ins, Church left the minimum-security Mat-Su prison farm on April 11 or 12 wearing jeans and a shirt, according to a sworn affidavit filed with escape charges. He’d been transferred to the isolated facility from medium-security Goose Creek Correctional Center less than 24 hours before.

Church was spotted breaking into a remote cabin in the Big Lake area on April 23 but left before he could be caught.

Troopers in an update said they got a tip at 3:30 p.m. Monday that “a cabin on East Butterfly Lake that was supposed to be unoccupied had an occupant."

A cabin owner in the area noticed someone had accessed a neighbor’s cabin, which was supposed to be empty, troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters said. They also noticed smoke coming out of the cabin.

Church was photographed near the cabins Sunday by a motion-activated game camera that the cabin owner reviewed Monday, Peters said.

Three troopers with the agency’s Special Emergency Reaction Team flew to the area in a helicopter, she said.

They found Church inside the cabin, still in bed, and he was cooperative, Peters said. “They asked him to come to them and keep his hands were they could see them. He did."

The team escorted Church back a little over a mile to the helicopter landing zone and brought him back.

Church broke into at least three cabins, she said. There may be additional break-ins owners haven’t discovered yet.

Church chatted with the owner of a neighboring cabin at Flat Lake near Big Lake when he was spotted there in late April. But the encounter was not confrontational or violent, Peters said. “He just talked to that guy. After that guy left, he left.”

Church was jailed on the escape charges and additionally charged in the new burglaries. He was scheduled for arraignment Tuesday afternoon in Palmer.

Before his most recent time on the run, his scheduled release date was October 2021.

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