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Crime & Courts

Mourning her son, Palmer mother channels energy into advocacy for addiction treatment

  • Author: Zaz Hollander
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published July 2, 2015

PALMER -- Less than two weeks after her son was killed, Terria Walters is channeling her grief into a mission of justice and redemption.

Christopher Seaman, 23, was found dead in his 1998 Honda Civic at the fireworks stands along the Parks Highway on June 23. Alaska State Troopers are investigating his death as a homicide but as of Wednesday had made no arrests.

Walters, a 42-year-old former addict and felon who has been sober for a decade, says she wants his killers brought to trial. But she also hopes Seaman's death sparks a larger conversation about the nature of addiction and Alaska's failure to treat the drug and alcohol abuse underlying so many crimes.

"My mission is to stop this so that other parents don't have to go through what I'm going through," Walters said Tuesday.

She sat in the Palmer home she shared with her son -- until that night in June when he never came home.

Not right

Seaman left the house on June 22 for a new job with a fence-building company, his mother said. He told her he loved her.

When Walters came home around midnight from her job as bar manager at Palmer City Alehouse, Seaman still wasn't home.

Walters was surprised. "The 700 Club," the TV program of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, was coming the next day for a story about her recovery and efforts to help others. Seaman had agreed to clean the kitchen and a bathroom. None of it was done.

"Instantly, I had this feeling come up in me that something wasn't right," she said.

Walters sent a text message. Seaman didn't respond. She tried to call but his phone was off.

She slept a little, woke early and still didn't know what was going on with her son.

Her son was a Type 1 diabetic, so initially Walters wondered if he'd forgotten to eat or take his insulin. That theory fell apart when Sgt. Mike Ingram showed up early the morning of June 24.

The trooper was a member of the Mat-Su narcotics unit that 10 years ago arrested a woman known at the time as Terria Creech.

Lessons of the past

Today, Walters is intelligent, organized, and clear-eyed, with an inner calm that belies that 2005 arrest under a different name.

A decade ago, troopers discovered her and a man in a Big Lake methamphetamine lab in a converted bus. They also found and removed Seaman. He was 13 then.

The boy was placed in the care of a couple Walters describes as "great foster parents" and stayed in touch with her every week while she was incarcerated. Walters served more than five years at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center.

She came out clean and stayed that way. She said she helped start an Anchorage transitional housing facility for inmates and others in need of treatment.

She credits the 24 months of inpatient care she received from Residential Substance Abuse Treatment and faith-based Transformational Living Community programs for her own recovery. Walters said she reached out to the troopers who arrested her in 2005 and thanked them.

"I gave them hugs," she said. "I let them know they saved my life."

A son's struggle

Then, one morning last month, one of those troopers was reaching out to her. Ingram was outside the door.

He came in and spent about 30 minutes asking Walters questions about Seaman's disappearance, then told her troopers had found him. He was dead.

Walters said it felt like someone punched her in the stomach. She told Ingram her son had a distinctive tattoo on his neck: a Bible verse from the Book of Matthew.

Walters said this week she still doesn't know how her son died.

"Was he tied up? Was his throat slit? Was he shot in the head?" she said. "I want to know all the circumstances leading up to his death, but then I'm scared to know."

She still hopes the killers will come forward, or be discovered. Troopers say the investigation continues and they can't provide any details.

Walters is convinced her son died because of the drugs he was doing, and the people involved were probably also using.

"My son struggled with addiction, but that did not make him a bad person and it did not give these individuals the right to steal his life," she said.

Treating crime's cause

Now Walters wants to use the attention from her son's death to publicize the state's heroin epidemic and the need to treat the addiction underlying many crimes. What's needed in Alaska aren't more prisons as planned, but drug treatment and ways for former inmates to find housing and jobs, she said.

Many felons emerge from prison to a world stacked against them. A felony conviction makes it hard to find places to live or a job. Walters' felony drug conviction is what's known as a "barrier crime." It prevents her from conducting, until 2017, the drug and alcohol counseling she'd like to practice.

The Alaska Department of Corrections in 2011 released a sobering report on prisoner re-entry that, among many other things, found Alaska doesn't have the capacity to provide substance abuse treatment to Alaskans inside and outside the criminal justice system. It blamed insufficient state funding for such programs and for faith-based mentor programs, and not enough trained, qualified providers.

The state is working to increase institutional substance abuse services, according to statistics provided by Laura Brooks, health-care administrator for the Department of Corrections. The number of inmates served by various treatment programs is expected to increase dramatically this fiscal year, especially at Hiland, Palmer Correctional Center and Goose Creek Correctional Center. But the treatment and continuing care available to former inmates in the community are expected to remain the same or even decrease, the numbers show.

Walters says former inmates already face a long wait list for treatment and Alaska needs more detox and treatment facilities. She believes the state should prioritize treatment over incarceration in cases involving substance abuse, and provide work-skills training so people "in the game" can, not only get clean, but learn how to operate in the real world away from crime.

Walters firmly believes her son, jailed just a few months before his death, could have benefited from a correctional system that worked that way.

Falling

Seaman, described as shy but funny and smart by people who knew him, graduated from Wasilla High School in 2012 and started studying electrical engineering at the University of Alaska Fairbanks but transferred to the University of Alaska Anchorage for training as a mechanic, his mother said. Walters thinks the dorms in Anchorage are where her son started doing drugs, in the form of prescription opiates. At some point, he shifted to heroin.

Seaman's record shows two criminal charges from 2011 to 2013: a 2011 conviction for criminal mischief and misdemeanor theft, and dismissed robbery and assault charges in 2013. Walters says the latter case involved a shoplifting incident at an Anchorage Wal-Mart in which Seaman wrestled with a loss-prevention officer.

Then her son got clean for a year and a half, Walters said. He worked as a server at the Alehouse, a popular establishment in Palmer's historic area near the old Matanuska Maid complex.

Seaman relapsed in February and got fired for showing up late. Walters kicked him out of the house.

By April, Seaman was arrested again, on drug and weapons charges that were later dismissed.

A Palmer police officer wrote in a sworn affidavit he followed the female passenger of a car reported to be driving erratically to Seaman's room at a motel on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway on April 23.

Inside, he discovered a spoon with heroin residue as well as more than $8,000 in cash in a metal security box, most of it smaller bills "consistent with drug users buying small quantities of drugs from a dealer," officer Jamie Hammons wrote. He also found a loaded Taurus .380-caliber pistol on the floor next to the security box, a stun gun, and a semiautomatic rifle in a case beneath the bed.

Seaman's mother took him in after he was released.

"He told me, 'Mom, I'm gonna be fine. I'm so glad I got arrested because now I can get sober,'" Walters said.

The charges were dismissed April 29.

Seaman apparently relapsed in the weeks before his death.

A calling

Walters hopes someday to establish a transitional housing facility in the Mat-Su with her son's name.

Seaman's memorial service was Wednesday evening at ChangePoint Church in South Anchorage. Walters said she's deriving strength from her faith in Jesus Christ and "good sober support people surrounding me."

Her home is neat, with tiger-stripe accents and purple pillows and throw rugs. The Serenity Prayer hangs on one wall. Walters wore a necklace her son gave her on Mother's Day. It spelled out "M-O-M" with two hearts going in opposite directions -- yet still connected.

Walters said her mission to find Seaman's killers and get people listening to her message of treatment is what her son would have wanted. He knew how hard she worked to get clean and remain sober. He'd heard her message: Your addiction isn't you.

"I had many conversations with my son and he told me, 'I hate being like this,'" she said. "I know he wanted to do what was right and make good decisions and have a career."

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