Crime & Courts

Raechyl Blackshear, a devoted mother, struggled in secret. Her family hopes the murders of her and her daughter focus attention on domestic and sexual abuse.

Raechyl Blackshear’s love for her children was fierce.

Blackshear would eat lunch at school with her kids to stave off bullies. At work, her stories focused on her four children. Her teenagers trusted her enough to tell her about their friendships and even crushes.

And when the 35-year-old nurse tried to leave her husband, her parents say, she was doing that for her children too.

Blackshear never hinted her marriage was anything less than perfect, her parents, Jeri and Anthony White, said in a series of interviews recently.

But they believe she had been experiencing varying degrees of physical and emotional violence from her husband, Jalonni Blackshear, a contention later supported in court documents by investigators.

It wasn’t until the end of March, when Jalonni was accused of sexually abusing their daughter, that Raechyl’s parents realized she could be in danger, they said.

By then it was too late.

Raechyl and her 14-year-old daughter, Jayla, were found dead in their home on April 15.

Jalonni Blackshear was charged on Thursday with their murder.

‘She loves strong’

As a young girl growing up in Stockton, California, Raechyl was headstrong and funny, and loved to learn, according to her mother, Jeri White.

White and her husband Anthony, Raechyl’s stepfather, now live in Elk Grove, California. They came to Alaska several weeks ago after Raechyl and Jayla were killed, to help with the other children.

Raechyl was a handful as a teenager, her mother said. So when her daughter became pregnant, White said, she wanted to make sure her daughter knew that parenthood was full of challenges.

“I was hard on her because I didn’t want her to have an expectation that I would be the mom for her son,” White said.

She helped her daughter learn to be independent, and Raechyl lived up to the challenge, she said.

Shortly after her son was born, Raechyl married a man in the military and moved to Alaska. She had three more children and decided to stay in the state even after her first marriage ended.

Her parents say Raechyl loved Alaska. She was learning to snowboard and enjoyed being active. She built a community of close friendships and caring colleagues.

Raechyl began working at Providence Transitional Care Center as a certified nursing assistant in 2014, the hospital said in a statement. She left in 2016 to go to nursing school and returned to the center in 2019 as a registered nurse, the hospital said.

She also worked night shifts at Alaska Native Medical Center, her colleagues there said.

Raechyl was bubbly and always smiling, even though the nature of the job was often grim, said Amanda Jensen, who trained Raechyl when she started at ANMC about six months ago. As a nurse, Raechyl was an undaunted advocate for her patients, Jensen said.

“She would take the time to connect with patients — ask them questions, get to know them, hear about their families,” Jensen said. “She was a very caring nurse.”

At a memorial service at the end of April, her mother said she heard from dozens of people that Raechyl was their best friend.

“She was just that good with other people,” Anthony White said. “She was everyone’s best friend. … She loves strong.”

Although Raechyl had a strong support system, her mother said, she struggled in silence with the apparent domestic violence she was enduring. Even her closest friends had no indication anything was wrong.

Last month, in court documents filed with sex abuse charges against Jalonni Blackshear, Anchorage police Detective John Kleinsmith wrote that there was an “extensive history of domestic violence” in the family in reference to safety issues involving weapons in the home and other problems.

In the weeks following her death, Raechyl’s friends told her parents that Jalonni forced her to cut people out of her life if they raised concerns about her safety.

“So if you were her best friend and you didn’t know, it’s because she valued your friendship enough to not tell you what was going on,” Jeri White said.

‘Everything you could ever ask for in a son-in-law’

Raechyl’s parents first met Jalonni Blackshear about eight years ago. He was welcoming and friendly, they say. He fit easily into the family and they loved him as if he were their own son.

“He was everything you could ever ask for in a son-in-law,” Jeri said.

Jayla was Jalonni’s daughter. She was conceived while Raechyl’s first marriage was in trouble, family members say. Jayla was about 6 when Jalonni entered the family’s lives again. Eventually Jalonni and Raechyl married.

When they became a couple, Jalonni took to fatherhood naturally and treated all of Raechyl’s children like his own, the Whites said.

When they saw the family together, it made them happy to see their daughter living what appeared to be such a fulfilling life.

Both Jalonni and Raechyl had successful careers, Jeri White said, Raechyl as an RN and Jalonni as a correctional officer at the Anchorage Correctional Complex.

“When we would see them together, she was legitimately happy — joking around with him and the kids just teasing each other,” White said. “I mean, it just made me feel good to see.”

Despite their outwardly happy appearance, the state Office of Children’s Services launched an investigation into the family in 2019 that involved a reference to domestic violence, according to court documents filed last month against Jalonni Blackshear.

That summer, police were called to the Blackshear home in Eagle River for a report of a child with a gunshot wound.

A shooting at home

The family was in the process of moving at the time, Jeri White said.

The story the couple say they heard was that Jalonni, just off work at the jail, left his gun on the counter. His 4-year-old daughter visiting from the Lower 48 saw a bear outside and decided to try to shoot it, White said she was told.

The girl instead shot herself, according to a police statement.

Charges were filed in October 2019 against Jalonni Blackshear for four counts of misdemeanor reckless endangerment.

His daughter shot herself in the stomach with a 10mm handgun, Blackshear told 911 dispatchers, according to the charges. She required emergency surgery for a gunshot wound that entered her chest and exited her back, and she survived.

Blackshear told officers he’d worked the night shift and left his gun on the counter when he went upstairs to sleep, according to the document. The sound of a gunshot woke him and he came downstairs to find the girl bleeding in the dining room, he told police. The other children told him she must have shot herself.

Blackshear also said he normally kept a round chambered in the gun because of bears around the house, the document said. The older children knew not to touch it, but the girl normally lives in Oklahoma and visits in the summer.

The gun did not belong to the Department of Corrections, spokeswoman Betsy Holley said.

The department was aware Jalonni was the subject of an external criminal investigation during that time, Holley said in an email. Department policy requires employees to “immediately inform and provide a written report to the employee’s chain of command,” Holley wrote.

The 2019 case is still open. A pretrial conference is scheduled for later this month.

The incident triggered the Office of Children’s Services investigation, according to a sworn affidavit filed with the sex abuse charges against Jalonni Blackshear. The children were placed in emergency custody.

The agency considers a number of factors, including a suspected perpetrator’s access to a victim, when considering emergency custody, said Clinton Bennett, a spokesman for the Office of Children’s Services.

If emergency removal from a parent’s care is necessary, state custody begins immediately, Bennett said. A judge reviews the action and the reasons for custody within 72 hours.

An OCS investigator at the time believed the “kids were in danger and that Raechyl was under (Jalonni’s) control and would not be able to make wise decisions because of that,” Jeri said her daughter told her at the time. “She’s pretty much the only person that saw that and she was right.”

At the time, however, the Whites said the incident appeared to be an honest accident and mistake. They still loved Jalonni and felt that he had no intent of harming anyone.

Jeri White flew to Alaska and spent time at the household with help from Raechyl’s biological father, who lived in northern California, so the children could return home during the investigation, she said.

Eventually, the children were allowed to live in the house, White said. There were lingering tensions, though, and Raechyl asked her mother to watch Jayla for a while. The girl moved to California for a year.

‘Fly High Jayla’

The Whites cherished their time with their granddaughter.

Jayla was playful and goofy, her grandmother said. She was a typical little sister who knew how to get under her older brothers’ skin.

But she also had a big heart. At school, Jayla took part in a club dedicated to making sure no one felt lonely, her grandmother said.

Students at Begich Middle School last month celebrated Jayla’s life by releasing balloons during a memorial service at a park near the school. They wore shirts printed with “Fly High Jayla” and shared stories about how fast she could run, how she was both fun and adventurous but also had a soft side.

White said Jayla wanted to be a child therapist when she grew up, inspired by White’s own career in therapy and in spite of what her grandmother described as a tumultuous experience with therapists following the gun injury in the household.

“That made me really happy to hear,” she said. “Because there was certainly a time when she didn’t trust therapists after the whole incident, but I’m glad she was able to see that it’s not always like that and that there are therapists out there that can help you.”

When Jayla returned to Alaska last year, White said, things seemed normal again.

Leaving for good

At the end of March, the family Raechyl Blackshear had worked so hard to keep together fell apart.

Jayla told her mother she had been raped by her father the morning of March 30. Raechyl sought help, according to friends, family and court documents filed in Anchorage Superior Court.

A complaint filed with sex abuse charges against Jalonni said his wife brought her daughter to the hospital for a sexual assault examination, followed by interviews with all of her children at Alaska CARES, a child advocacy center that focuses on helping children who have experienced trauma from abuse.

On April 1, investigators obtained a warrant to get DNA from Jalonni Blackshear, according to Kleinsmith’s affidavit.

In the meantime, Jeri White said, the Office of Children’s Services filed for emergency custody of the children. The boys were placed in foster care, she said, but it’s unclear why the girls weren’t also immediately placed into temporary housing.

Bennett, the OCS spokesman, said he cannot comment on individual cases or investigations due to privacy laws.

Jalonni Blackshear sent Raechyl’s youngest daughter to stay in California with her grandparents, Jeri White said. Anthony White said Jalonni had told them Jayla had recanted the sex abuse allegation. White said his son-in-law also falsely said the DNA didn’t match.

The last time Jeri White spoke with Raechyl was in early April. Her daughter said she was on her way to meet with Jalonni. It wasn’t clear what they planned to talk about.

The killings took place on April 4, according to the Anchorage grand jury indictment handed up Thursday.

Jeri White said she knew something was wrong as soon as her “extremely dependable” daughter missed a shift for work.

Before the grim discovery at the Blackshear home, police believed Raechyl may have fled the state with both daughters, according to the sex abuse criminal complaint.

Federal investigators with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security called the Whites at their California home, Anthony White said. They asked if the couple was hiding the girls. That’s when they realized Jayla was missing.

On April 6, Jalonni quit his job at the Anchorage jail. The Alaska Department of Corrections “was not aware of any investigation until after Mr. Blackshear left state service,” spokeswoman Holley wrote in an email.

The next day, Jalonni resigned his professional certification for law enforcement and fled the state, according to the affidavit in the sex abuse case.

The Whites said they continued to get text messages from Raechyl’s phone in the following days but couldn’t reach her in a call. They now think Jalonni was sending the texts to throw off suspicion.

A family member called the Anchorage Police Department that week and requested a welfare check at the Blackshear home. Jeri White said police stopped by several times but didn’t see anything suspicious.

Police forced entry into the home on April 15 and found Jayla and Raechyl dead.

The Whites believe their daughter had been grabbing a few essential supplies before leaving for good.

Arrested in New York

Jalonni fled to North Carolina and New York, according to the Whites.

Charges were filed in Alaska on April 13 accusing him of sexually abusing his 14-year-old daughter. The DNA test he had taken several weeks earlier matched samples taken from his daughter’s sexual assault examination, according to the affidavit.

On April 20, Jalonni Blackshear was apprehended in Staten Island, a borough of New York City.

Anchorage police traced at least one cellphone ping to a house there, according to federal court documents filed in New York. The day before, law enforcement spotted him at the home, wearing the same heavy gold chain he wore in a Facebook photo circulated by authorities.

A Homeland Security agent arrested him on federal charges of fleeing to avoid prosecution. Blackshear told the agent he knew he was wanted on charges out of Anchorage, according to a sworn affidavit.

Blackshear appeared before a federal judge in New York for an arraignment hearing and was ordered to be extradited to Alaska, according to Rochelle Liedike, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Marshal’s Service.

As of Friday, Blackshear remained in federal custody pending extradition, police said.

It wasn’t clear when he was expected to arrive back in Alaska. Generally, defendants are transferred from federal custody to state custody and held at the Anchorage Correctional Complex, Liedike said.

Blackshear may be held at a different facility because he worked at the Anchorage jail, she said.

‘It has to end today’

Many unanswered questions linger about the deaths of Raechyl and Jayla Blackshear.

The Whites say the less they know, the better.

“I don’t want anything to taint the memory that I have with my daughter and my granddaughter,” Jeri White said.

Now they are adjusting to a new reality. Both are staying in Anchorage until the end of the school year. Then, they say, they plan to go back to California with their three grandchildren.

There is no justice in this sort of violence and loss, Anthony White said, but there can be purpose.

At the end of April, Jeri White stood in front of a church full of mostly unfamiliar faces, people she knew had also loved her daughter and granddaughter. Bouquets of purple flowers surrounded her, highlighting a color used to symbolize domestic violence awareness. Behind her, an oversized photo of her daughter and granddaughter beamed from a screen.

Raechyl and Jayla, she said, had so much life ahead of them.

White wants people to remember her daughter for her devotion and love as a mother. And she wants people to live like Raechyl: full of energy and overflowing with love and kindness for others.

But the grieving mother and grandmother said she also wants others to learn from her family’s experience.

White urged people to check on friends they suspect may be struggling with domestic violence. But most of all, she said, she wants women who are experiencing domestic violence to know they aren’t alone.

There are resources to help leave violent living situations, White said, and she hopes others who see what happened to Raechyl take it as a sign to leave — for their children, their parents and themselves.

“If you’re that person that’s in a situation and you think that it’ll get better or things will change or if you could just ride it out, I’m standing here to tell you, don’t think that it can’t happen,” she said. “If you know someone or if you are someone — it ends today. It has to end today.”

Reporter Annie Berman contributed to this story.

• • •

If you or someone you know needs help, here are some resources:

• Call 911 for immediate emergency assistance.

• Contact the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault at 907-586-3650 or at andvsa.org/find-help/member-programs.

• Find a local service program by Alaska region at the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault website: dps.alaska.gov/CDVSA/Services/VictimServices.

• Reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline by calling 800-799-SAFE (7233), texting START to 88788 or visiting thehotline.org.

• • •

Tess Williams

Tess Williams is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News, focusing on breaking news. Before joining the ADN in 2019, she was a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota and previously helped cover the Nebraska Legislature for The Associated Press. Contact her at twilliams@adn.com.

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