Leaving Anchorage, the Glenn highway snakes along the base of the Chugach mountains as traffic moves toward the Mat-Su valley. It’s a drive I’m very familiar with. Jeff and I commute to work with so many others who choose to live away from the big city.
The reasons are many: good schools, more bang for the buck in housing, safer communities, and more elbow room.
As the road makes a long turn, the Knik and Matanuska river bridges come into view. Ice now covers much of the water alluding to the cold winter weather upon us. Moose are often seen in sweeping views of the Palmer Hayflats. My record for a one way drive was 26 last spring.
The highway splits with the Parks heading up to Denali and Fairbanks. The Glenn or Hwy 1 continues on to Glennallen.
“Highway” is a relative term in Alaska. There are so few roads. Two lanes of asphalt wind lazily through forests and lakes. The Glenn passes the Alaska State Fairgrounds on it’s right, Noisy Goose cafe on the left. Then, it reaches the heart of Palmer, Alaska.
Sitting in the shadow of Pioneer Peak, Palmer is a quintessential Alaskan community, a gateway to the interior of Alaska. A wonderful small town.
There are churches, Palmer and Colony middle and high schools, fun shops and restaurants, a golf course. It’s a recreational paradise encircled by stunning mountains on the edge of wilderness. Rural and agricultural by nature, good solid people make up the core.
It’s the place we call home. It’s a place most of us considered safe.
On November 13, a 16 year old boy named David Grunwald took his girlfriend home that night. He told his parents he was heading to a friend’s house afterwards and would be home a little late. He never made it back.
Every parent’s worst nightmare, it was as though he had vanished. There were so few clues.
The next day, as news spread through the valley and schools, his burned out Ford Bronco was found in Wasilla about 20 miles from where he was last known to have been. I knew in my heart, the outcome would not be good. A frantic search was underway.
I felt a sense of panic creep into my soul. We live in the middle of where all this had taken place. What kind of monster was our community dealing with who would take a child, and leave only violence behind.
If this could happen to such a nice kid, what was to stop it from happening to one of mine. The unknown was absolutely terrifying. I wouldn’t let my kids do anything without being accompanied by an adult.
Many of us prayed and shed tears, feeling deeply heartbroken for David, his family, and his friends. A lit billboard and multiple fliers were constant reminders of what had taken place. As time passed, my hope was that the case would break to bring resolution home for his loved ones.
On December 2, David was found off Knik River Road. We shed tears and an entire valley is mourning deeply.
The Alaska State Troopers had indeed cracked the case, and made an arrest. The person arrested in this heinous crime…a 16 year old boy.
I don’t know David or his family. I grieve as a fellow mother, and community member.
But my kids knew him. Bridger had several classes with David over the past couple of years and described him as a “fun kid”, always nice to be around and friendly to everyone. He also saw him on the ski slopes, or driving around in his Bronco he had fixed up. David and Bridger shared a common bond that both had worked on their vehicles to turn them into a teenage boy’s dream.
By Bridger’s account, David was a typical boy, a classmate, a friend. One of many good and not so good kids who make up the social world of teens in the Mat-Su valley.
Both Summer and Bridger know the alleged murderer. I was almost sick to my stomach when I found out Summer was friends with him on several social media sites. “What ifs” left a cold, numb feeling.
The awful news is what kids are talking about this week at school, church and in homes. This didn’t take place in Los Angeles, or Chicago; this murder was in Palmer, Ak.
How do you even begin to explain to them what happened. Saige has expressed fear, Summer is somber, and Bridger is trying to mask disbelief.
I have no answers. I tell them, I don’t know what made this boy and likely others do what they did. They wonder if there were signs or indications that this was a bad person. I just can’t answer that question.
Saige asked me, “Are there more kids like that?”. I don’t know. How do you tell a 10 year old to be cautious, but not live in fear, or a 14 year old to purge her social media constantly, or console an 18 year old that yes, these kids were your friends. The kids here won’t be the same.
The parents? How do I ever let my kids attend parties, activities or chill out in places I’m not watching like a hawk.
The events of the past month or so have rocked many to the deepest reaches of our souls while stirring up our darkest nightmares. I’m still moved to tears and continue praying and grieving for David’s parents.
So many lives have been shattered. His family, the perpetrators’ families, David’s friends and classmates are all suffering. It will be a very long time before many are able to heal.
Most of all, the saddest part is that a young man with so much potential will never be able to reach it in this life, his innocence lost.
I live under no illusions that Alaska isn’t a dangerous place to live. There are unsavory people and circumstances that we do our best to avoid. The horrifying fact is that I never thought we’d have to witness a story like this unfolding right in our backyard in a place like Palmer, Alaska. My only hope and prayer, is that it never happens again and that justice is served.
*After posting: On Friday, Dec. 9, 4 more valley teens have been charged in the murder, bringing the total to 5 kids under the age of 19.