An autopsy has confirmed that 13-year-old Kake resident Mackenzie Howard died as a result of a homicide, according to the Alaska Bureau of Investigation.
An Alaska State Trooper lieutenant overseeing the investigation said Saturday he could not reveal what type of injuries Howard suffered, if investigators had found a murder weapon, or if there was evidence of a sexual assault.
The discovery of Howard's body in a church entryway Tuesday night, across the street from her home, left the community of 600 reeling, her friends and family said. In gatherings across the state Friday night, mourners met to sing and light candles for Howard, who had just become a teenager a week before her death.
"It's overwhelming at times," said Kip Howard, the victim's father. "But we're dealing with things and trying to stay strong, because we just have to.
"My baby wouldn't want us to be angry," he said.
Mackenzie Howard loved basketball and coordinating outfits -- lots of pink and red -- to match her big red glasses, her father said. She smiled often. When people were feeling down, Mackenzie cheered them up, he said.
"She was such a sweet, innocent, beautiful lady," longtime Kake resident Lincoln Bean Sr. said at the Anchorage vigil Friday night. "I've never seen anything or ever had anything this horrendous happen in my community. So it's a shock. And hopefully, and I pray to God, they find whoever did this and bring them to justice."
Four bureau investigators continued to work "around the clock" through the weekend in the Southeast village about 90 miles south of Juneau, hoping to catch Howard's killer, trooper Lt. Rex Leath said.
"There's no doubt the community has been flipped upside down," Leath said. "This isn't a victim that anybody, in any shape or form, would've expected this to happen to."
The village was busy with visitors in the days before Howard's death.
The girl helped with a memorial Monday and burial ceremony Tuesday for the late Kake elder Clarence Jackson, said Bean, Jackson's cousin. Kids were let out of school early Tuesday, he said. The remembrance for Jackson, a Sealaska Corp. board member who helped incorporate the Native corporation, brought at least 200 people to Kake, Bean said.
MacKenzie lent a hand in the ceremonies, loading dozens of flower bouquets into a skiff bound for Jackson's grave at an island burial site near the village, said resident Jacob Shaquanie. Shaquanie snapped a picture of the flower-laden skiff with Howard in it. She looked lighthearted, wearing a pink hat and red hooded sweatshirt.
"I told her to smile real big," Shaquanie said. "I thought that would be a good picture to show her mom."
Bean said he saw Howard a couple times later Tuesday. She and the other village children served food at a memorial potluck at the community hall and helped clean up.
"(The kids) came there to learn about how our memorial services are conducted, with the Ravens and the Eagles, and listening to the speakers about traditional values and culture," Bean said. "As I saw her, I noticed her two times, she was happy and walking around, and all the kids played an important part by being there."
Kip Howard said his daughter ate food with him before she went to visit with her friends. She returned to his table for dessert and said she was going to walk home, he said.
He last saw her alive about 9:45 p.m.
Mackenzie didn't arrive at home, Kip said. He drove around in his pickup and started searching for her on foot. Kip and his wife, Marla, called around but nobody had seen their daughter. Kip was still looking around the village shortly before 11 p.m. when the pastor's wife called his cellphone from the Memorial Presbyterian Church -- about 25 feet across the road from the family's home -- and told him to come quickly to the church.
"That's when I found my daughter," he said. "It was really a terrible thing. I think I probably went crazy for a minute."
Leath did not identify the person who found Mackenzie Howard's body. A long ramp on the opposite side of the building's main entrance leads up to double doors and the body was inside an arctic entry between those doors and another set of double doors, he said.
No village public safety officer was in the community at the time: The previous officer had left the position and a new one was not yet working, residents said.
"Some of the local first responders cordoned off and secured what they thought was the crime scene," Leath said. "She remained there until we were able to process the scene."
Two men stood guard at each side of the church, Shaquanie said. Word quickly spread through town and many other residents came to the church late that night, he said. The mood was more of shock than fear, Shaquanie said.
"It was just so sad. I think the whole town of Kake was down there after they heard," he said.
Many of the out-of-town visitors who attended the memorial services left the village the next morning, Kake residents said. It's difficult to know how many departed on personal watercraft or in private planes, Leath said. An estimated 50 to 75 people who were in Kake the night of the homicide were gone by the time troopers arrived the next day, he said.
A Juneau-based trooper arrived at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Leath said. Two bureau detectives and two crime scene investigators arrived a few hours later. They photographed Howard's body and the area where she was found and have since conducted 40 to 50 interviews, Leath said.
Troopers flew Howard's body to Anchorage, where a medical examiner conducted an autopsy.
"They've made the ruling and they believe the death was the result of a homicide," Leath said.
Evidence at the crime scene and information the investigators learned from the autopsy have helped narrow the field of possible suspects, Leath said. So far, troopers have not named any suspects or persons of interest in the case, nor have any arrests been made.
"We have one side of the picture right now. And like we all know, there's always two sides to the story," Leath said. "We'd like to talk to those people who have information about the event and see what their version of the events are."
Anyone with information they think might help catch the person responsible for Howard's death is asked to contact their local law enforcement, Leath said.
The trooper lieutenant said the investigators do not have reason to think residents of Kake are in any danger. Still, villagers are anxious to know who killed Howard and if the person is still in the tight-knit community, Shaquanie said by phone Saturday from Kake, where it was overcast and rainy.
"Everybody is pretty in shock," Shaquanie said. "Parents are afraid to let their kids go out by themselves. I think they'll be a little more at ease when they find out who did it."
Reach Casey Grove at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE
Alaska Dispatch Publishing