Rural Alaska

A year after a homicide, Bethel man’s family demands answers

  • Author: Teresa Cotsirilos, KYUK
  • Updated: February 4
  • Published February 4

In January 2017, Michael "Mike" Chris was shot in the head outside his home. Law enforcement has been investigating his death for months, but the case has been tough from the beginning.

First, the Bethel Police Department considered his death a suicide. Now they're investigating it as a homicide and suspect that it was drug related. According to Bethel Police Department Sgt. Amy Davis, that might be keeping people quiet. People just aren't telling the police what they know.

In June, Chris' family offered a $25,000 reward for any information about his death. "It didn't bring one single call into the department," Davis said.

Chris' family members have their own suspicions about what happened. He was a hardworking father who struggled with a heroin addiction. In the weeks before his killing, his mother, Julie Carter, says that he was being threatened. It had something to with drugs, or drug money. She said that her daughter overheard a few of his phone calls.

Julie Carter stands next to pictures of her son at his funeral feast. Michael Chris was shot outside his home a year ago, and Bethel police are still searching for his killer. (Teresa Cotsirilos / KYUK)

"Priscilla told me something about people threatening him, local people here like a dealer," said Carter. "We know who that person is."

But for now, all the family can do is check in with the police about the investigation and wait.

On Wednesday, Chris' family marked the anniversary of his death with a quiet funeral feast. His mother had been cooking for days. "We have blueberry agutaq, cranberry agutaq, and salmonberry agutaq," she said, showing her guests around the kitchen.

The feast was hosted in the home of Chris' widow, Jackie Chris. She and their four children moved to the home after Michael Chris was shot in front of their old house; they didn't feel safe in there anymore.

The living room walls in the new house are lined with over a dozen certificates that Chris received through his work. The stairwell is lined with pictures. There are pictures of him in elementary school. Pictures of him in front of a palm tree in California. Pictures of him loading up his truck, with his son toddling after him.

Michael Chris' murder is still unsolved, but his family is doing whatever it can to make sure he is not forgotten.

Chris, mother Carter says, was the kind of person you called when your pipes froze. He was capable, worked constantly, and was her only son. "The only thing he had," she said with a pause, "was a bad habit."

Carter doesn't know exactly when her son started using heroin, but she suspects he got hooked after a spinal injury. She said that doctors prescribed him heavy pain medication. She and Chris' wife tried to get him help, but they couldn't get him into an inpatient treatment program.

On the night of Jan. 31, 2017, after receiving multiple threatening phone calls, Chris told his wife he needed a cigarette. He got up and stepped out of the house. Then his teenage daughter, Angie, heard a gunshot.

"I thought it was like a pop outside or something else," she said. "I was taken aback when I heard it. I was thinking, 'It better not be my dad.' Just, no, he's in here. But I remembered I saw him going downstairs. So that's when I got scared. Then I heard my mom saying, 'Mike! Mike! Mike!,' and I got scared."

The family still struggles to recover. Julie Carter still can't get over the Bethel Police Department's initial determination that her son killed himself. She remembers walking into the police station and insisting that he'd been murdered.

"The officer said, 'I've been an expert at this for how many years,' " she said. " 'And this is a self-inflicted gunshot.' When I left the police station I just felt like a puppy dog with tails tucked between the legs. You know, you feel humiliated."

She was right and the police were wrong. They know that now. And now, Carter says her daughter is being threatened too. She also struggles with addiction issues and has received threatening texts.

"Do you want to go like your brother?" said Carter, quoting the text messages. "You know, 'Your brother was blah blah, you want to go the way he went?' "

His mother says that the family visits Chris' grave often. "We'll hold hands around the grave," said Carter, beginning to cry, "and we pray, 'God, we want justice.' "

According to Sgt. Davis, the Bethel police investigation is still ongoing and they're following up on a recent lead.