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Rural Alaska

Photos: 1 year after child's murder, public safety concerns linger in Kake

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  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published August 3, 2014

KAKE -- Her body lay in the back entryway of the church for 11 hours after villagers called the Alaska State Troopers for help. She was a 13-year-old nicknamed "Mack" who wore big red glasses and loved to dance. The Tlingit girl had been beaten to death.

No one knew who killed Mackenzie Howard that cold February night last year -- and people were terrified that the killer was still in their midst. But in the remote community of Kake, only accessible by air or boat, there was no law enforcement officer. That meant no police to protect the community, cordon off the crime scene, preserve the evidence and launch an investigation. The villagers had to wait for state troopers in Juneau, 114 miles away, to get there.

"They have the capability of flying at night now . . . but still nobody came," said Joel Jackson, a local wood carver who helped gather villagers to guard Mackenzie's body and the crime scene that night. "And that upset me greatly. When there's any fishing violation or hunting violation, they're here in full force -- over a dead animal. To have one of our own laying there for (so long) was traumatic for everybody."

With no police and few courts of their own, most Alaska Native villages instead are forced to rely on Alaska State Troopers. But there is only about one trooper per every million acres. Getting to rural communities can take days and is often delayed by the great distances to cover, the vagaries of the weather and -- in the minds of many Alaska Natives -- the low priority placed on protecting local tribes.

READ MORE: Murder in Kake highlights hard-to-come-by public safety in Alaska villages