Rural Alaska

Metlakatla man charged in fatal shooting of older brother profiled in basketball film as community reels

Alaskan Nets

Tyler Henderson, a senior on the Metlakatla Chiefs high school basketball team in 2018, hit the game-winning 3-point shot with under a minute to go in the 2A state championships.

The crowd and his teammates erupted with joy. The scrappy Southeast team edged out Unalaska for the victory decades in the making.

That shot — and that season, as the team grieved the deaths of two community members — is memorialized in the award-winning documentary “Alaskan Nets” that next month starts screening at schools in the United States and Canada before wider release in the spring.

But now it’s the Henderson family the community is grieving for.

Tyler Henderson was critically injured early Sunday morning after his younger brother Isaac shot him in the head at their mother’s home in Metlakatla, according to court documents filed in Ketchikan.

Tyler Henderson died of his injuries, according to a spokesperson for Alaska Native Medical Center, where he was transferred from PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center.

Isaac, who turned 18 this year, faces murder charges.

Word of the shooting and Henderson’s death prompted an outpouring of prayers and support for the family in the community and on social media. Tyler Henderson’s friends and fellow students, the class of 2018, this week held a 50-50 raffle fundraiser for the Henderson family and sold more than 5,000 tickets in three days. The person whose ticket was drawn Thursday night at the bingo hall donated half her winnings back to the family.

Metlakatla Indian Community, located on Annette Island about 20 miles south of Ketchikan, is the only federal reserve in Alaska. About 1,600 people live there.

Members of the community were still reeling Friday. Metlakatla High School basketball coach Tony Scott did not respond to a request for comment. Family members couldn’t be reached.

Ketchikan High School basketball coach Eric Stockhausen traveled to Metlakatla early Monday morning to support coach Scott and members of the team, some of whom he knows personally.

On Friday, Stockhausen said he was reluctant to say too much out of respect for the Henderson family, but he wanted to praise the school’s response to the tragedy.

“There are no words for this,” he said.

Stockhausen heard the news about the shooting from Scott on Sunday. They spoke for three hours back and forth.

On Monday morning, the Ketchikan coach and teacher got a ride to Metlakatla in the dark of 7 a.m. in an open skiff piloted in 20-degree temperatures by his assistant coach, who is from Metlakatla and related to the Hendersons. On Tuesday, his flight was canceled by weather. His assistant coach came back in blizzard conditions to get him.

Stockhausen spent Monday at the school and then skipped his own team’s basketball practice so he could attend Metlakatla’s.

The basketball squad held practice on Monday.

The team was “businesslike,” Stockhausen said. “That’s why this is such a powerful thing. These 2A teams, they’re on ferries, gone for six days. They’re all each other has.”

Coach Scott “did a great job” that day giving his team members some normalcy, but also love and encouragement, the Ketchikan coach said. “The last thing I said to their team is that this is the first practice of mine that I’ve missed in 17 years. And I just said you are worth it.”

He repeated it twice more as the boys sat in a circle around their coach.

Members of the “Alaskan Nets” production team spent months in and out of Metlakatla following the Chiefs and interacting with community members. Both Henderson brothers played on the team that year, Isaac as a freshman and Tyler as a starter.

Their grandmother “adopted our crew,” the film’s director Jeff Harasimowicz said Friday by phone from his home in Bend, Oregon.

The movie follows cousins Danny Marsden and DJ King, “fishermen and stars of the high school basketball team,” as promotional materials describe it, “as they lead their team and town toward their first state championship in over 30 years — the only thing that will bring life back to an island that has undergone unimaginable tragedy.”

Two beloved residents died during the filming, Harasimowicz said Friday: One man was a father figure to one of the team members, and the other was a cousin to a number of team members and was a former player himself. Both died in commercial diving accidents.

“I think if spending time in Metlakatla has taught me anything, it’s that life is fragile,” he said. “There’s a fragility to life there you don’t see in places in the Lower 48.”

The Henderson brothers were “both good kids,” he said. “We only had great experiences with both of them.”

Isaac Henderson, who turned 18 this year, was indicted Thursday by a grand jury on charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, according to the indictment. He was also charged with third-degree assault on suspicion of putting a witness in fear of serious imminent injury.

Witnesses told Metlakatla police that Isaac shot Tyler with a .40-caliber semi-automatic Steyr pistol during an argument at their mother’s trailer, according to a statement of probable cause filed with the initial complaint. Tyler Henderson was transported to Ketchikan by boat. He was alive when charges were first filed Sunday morning.

Isaac Henderson was arraigned telephonically in Ketchikan on Friday morning, according to prosecutor Alex Kramarczuk. His grandmother was on the line during the hearing. Henderson on Friday remained jailed at Ketchikan Correctional Center on $100,000 bail.

The community’s tragedy comes just as the documentary with Metlakatla at its center takes off.

“Alaskan Nets” won an audience choice award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in April. Now actor Chris Pratt — he joined the film as executive producer — is teaming up with Alaska Airlines for a North American promotional tour of the documentary to offer free screenings for any schools in the U.S. and Canada from January through March before the film is released. As of Friday, about 450 schools had signed up.

[Filmmakers take a gamble on Metlakatla basketball, and it pays off with an award-winning documentary]

Harasimowicz said Tyler Henderson’s loss now is heartbreaking.

That 3-pointer at the end of the 2018 state championship game was the culmination of a season of internal conviction and growth for Henderson, the director said — proof of the quiet but pivotal role he played on the team.

Marsden and King may have been billed as the stars of the movie. But Henderson came through in the clutch.

“It wasn’t Danny, it wasn’t DJ, it wasn’t the usual heroes that bailed them out so many times in the season,” Harasimowicz said. “It was Tyler. It was Tyler that probably had the biggest shot in Metlakatla basketball history. And that’s really saying something.”

Zaz Hollander

Longtime ADN reporter Zaz Hollander is based in the Mat-Su and is currently focused on coverage of the coronavirus in Alaska. She also covers the Mat-Su region, aviation and general assignments. Contact her at zhollander@adn.com.

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