An LGBTQ activist on the Kenai Peninsula says she was slashed with a knife and beaten in her home this month within a few weeks of two threatening incidents.
Tammie Willis said she found a note crammed under her pickup’s windshield wiper in mid-November: “Dumb Ass Dyke We don’t want your gay libtard ass shit here so take it some where else before you get hurt!!!”
A little over a week later, Willis says, she was driving before dawn to Kenai Peninsula College, where she is associate director of residence life, when she glimpsed someone standing in the bed of a pickup at the side of the road. That person threw something that broke her windshield.
Police this week said they found a rock with the word “dyke” written on it at the spot.
On Dec. 9, the power in Willis’ Sterling neighborhood went out, she said. She went to see if other houses were dark, and when she opened the door leading from her garage, someone pushed her back inside and began to slash her with a knife.
She couldn’t really see her attacker, Willis said this week. He was male, over 6 feet tall, with a “really pungent body odor,” she said. She is profoundly hearing impaired and doesn’t know if the man said anything to her.
A Homer Electric Association spokesman confirmed that high winds knocked out power to more than 300 households in several Sterling neighborhoods that morning. It’s unclear whether the man was taking advantage of the outage or had been waiting outside for Willis to leave for work.
Willis said she could feel burning pain in her arms as the blade cut her. The man stopped the knife attack after cutting her arm and chest — she said her hand was also cut when she grabbed the blade — and punched her so hard she was knocked to the floor and her head bounced on the concrete. The man beat on her lower body with his fists, she said. Then he left. She called for help.
Willis called 911 at about 7:25 a.m., according to Alaska State Troopers. Emergency dispatchers stayed on the phone with her until a trooper arrived 25 minutes later and was able to briefly speak with Willis before an ambulance took her to the hospital.
“I ended up with 20 staples in my arm, two stitches in my breast and bruising from hip to knee,” Willis said.
Providers at the hospital also diagnosed her with a concussion. She’s recovering from most of the injuries, though the blood thinners she takes mean the bruises will take a while to heal.
A trooper interviewed her again the day after the assault. A knife was recovered at the scene the day of the attack.
Troopers were still waiting to get surveillance video from a neighbor as of Friday, an agency spokesman said.
Willis is living on campus for now, taking advantage of the security protections there. Friends don’t let her go anywhere alone. She and her wife also have a house in Anchorage, where Willis spent the holidays.
She can’t shake the conviction the three incidents are related and constitute a hate crime that merits a warning to other people in the LGBTQ community.
But Alaska doesn’t have a hate-crime statute, so the Soldotna police and Alaska State Troopers investigating the incidents aren’t using those words. Neither has issued any broad warnings.
The note was classified under the title of “suspicious circumstances,” according to Soldotna police Lt. Duane Kant. Willis, who said she didn’t find the message until she used her windshield wipers, said she wasn’t sure where or when it was put there.
“There wasn’t a lot to investigate there,” Lt. Kant said.
When Willis reported the object hitting her windshield on Nov. 22, officers didn’t find any sign of a parked pickup, Kant said. Willis said friends did see indications that a vehicle stopped and backed into position.
Both cases are considered closed unless more information surfaces, Kant said.
Police increased patrols around campus after Willis told them she was living there.
Troopers investigated the home assault because it was outside Soldotna city limits. They described the attack as "assault/burglary” in an online dispatch posted four days after it occurred.
Willis talked with the investigating trooper this week and said she learned he hadn’t yet sent the knife in to be tested for evidence. It had been sent to the lab as of Thursday, troopers spokesman Ken Marsh said.
Troopers have worked with Soldotna police on the prior incidents and are investigating the burglary and assault at Willis’ home, Marsh said.
If a suspect is found and brought to trial, the hate crime aspect of an incident is an “aggravator” that could lead to stiffer sentencing upon conviction, state officials say. But sexual orientation is not on the list of protected classes under Alaska’s hate-crime aggravator statute, according to Deputy Attorney General John Skidmore. There are other aggravators, including deliberate cruelty, that could apply.
Willis feels authorities aren’t doing enough to warn the LGTBQ community now, given the appearance that someone targeted her because of her activism. As far as she knows, she doesn’t have any enemies or people who’d want to hurt her in the community.
It doesn’t seem right that authorities are handling the attack as an isolated criminal incident, she said.
“I recognize that Alaska does not consider sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected class and therefore it’s not a hate crime, but to just say it’s a burglary or it’s an assault is doing a disservice to the LGBT community on the Peninsula.”
Willis, 51, moved to the Kenai Peninsula seven years ago. She describes herself as the only gay member of a core group of LGBTQ activists in the Soldotna area. The residential hall where she works houses the college’s LGBT alliance. The last two incidents — the windshield rock and the assault — occurred after planning meetings for next summer’s Pride in the Park event in Soldotna.
Frustrated by what she perceived as the slow pace of the trooper investigation, Willis posted a description of the events of the past month on her Facebook page this week.
Anchorage Rep. Geran Tarr saw the post Tuesday morning and called the trooper on the case.
As a state legislator, Tarr said, she’s hearing from lots of constituents with concerns about policing and public safety. She was also concerned about the escalation of events against Willis.
“It’s not known at this time whether they are related. That’s totally fair; the troopers need to have time to investigate,” she said. “But I think a reasonable person sees a threatening note, then there’s an incident, then there’s a very violent incident where this woman could have died. ... That raises some red flags.”
Soldotna Pride in the Park will host a safety town hall meeting for the LGBTQ community at the Soldotna Public Library on Jan. 4.