A jailed former Kiana schoolteacher agreed in a Kotzebue court hearing Wednesday to return to Missouri and answer charges he sexually abused his adopted child there.
Owen Melvin Miller, 42, was beginning his second year as a high school language arts teachers at the Kiana school, east of Kotzebue in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, on Aug. 29 when he was called into the principal's office and arrested by an Alaska State Trooper. Miller was wanted on a Missouri warrant for statutory rape, sodomy, child molestation and incest charges.
Miller, his wife and seven adopted children moved to Alaska from Missouri in 2010 when he got a job at the Akiak school in Western Alaska, according to KNOM Radio. At some point, Miller's wife and children moved to Wasilla while he took other jobs in Tuluksak and Kiana.
In 2013, one of the children told a Wasilla police officer that Miller had done "inappropriate things to her" for years, starting with a 2002 "marriage ceremony" in Savannah, Missouri, that included sex acts and alcohol, according to a probable cause statement signed by the prosecuting attorney of Andrew County, Missouri. The girl was younger than 14 at the time, according to the charges.
It's not clear what the Wasilla police officer did with the information and how or when it was forward to the Missouri authorities. But a Missouri sheriff's deputy later interviewed two of the couple's other children, who said they were physically abused and neglected for years.
"They recounted several incidents being locked into the basement, attic or outside. The kids would go on average two days without food if they were in trouble. (Two of the children) would get food by unhinging (another child's) bedroom door because it was padlocked from the outside. They would crawl through a hole in the wall and sneak into the garage to get food out of the deep freeze," the probable cause statement says.
Miller's wife has not been charged with any crime. It's unclear whether she and the children still live in Alaska.
Law enforcement officials in Alaska say they don't have reason to believe Miller abused other children while living here, though the Missouri probable cause court filing says abuse "occurred in many jurisdictions throughout Missouri and Alaska."
"I do not believe there is an active (AST) investigation as no victims have come forward," said Kotzebue-based trooper Nathan Sheets, who arrested Miller. "All I know is that the charges that he is facing are out of the state of Missouri and not out of Kiana."
Miller had no criminal history in Alaska or Missouri before this, he said. The conduct detailed in the warrant took place 12 years ago.
"I was the oversight trooper for Kiana. I never received any complaints on Mr. Miller prior to this or after this. If someone would like to come forward, we're always willing to hear."
At the court hearing Wednesday, Miller appeared by phone from Nome's Anvil Mountain Correctional Center, where he has been held on $100,000 bail and a third-party custodian since his arrest, according to Nome and Kotzebue prosecutor John Earthman.
Miller told the judge he didn't qualify for a public defender but couldn't afford an attorney to represent him in Alaska. He waived extradition, which will speed his transfer to Missouri.
"I didn't want to sit in jail up here for longer," he told the judge.
Miller said he intended to hire an attorney in Missouri.
From 2010 until the time he was arrested, Miller worked at three rural schools, first in Akiak and then in Tuluksak, both in the Yupiit School District along the Kuskokwim River. In 2013, he was hired to teach in Kiana.
Principals of the two Yupiit School District schools where Miller worked were not available Wednesday.
Annmarie O'Brien, superintendent of the Northwest Arctic Borough School District, said she doesn't have reason to believe Miller harmed students while working at the Kiana school.
"At this time no," she said. "Not to our knowledge at this time."
The district and state had followed standard background check requirements when Miller was hired, including fingerprinting, criminal history reviews and interviews where professional references are specifically asked whether they know of any allegations of child sexual abuse against the applicant. Miller had passed all of the background checks, she said.
"Unfortunately, this is something that occurred that wasn't on the radar anywhere," she said.