While thinking about who or what might be in my next article, it occurred to me that there are people who have lived here in Juneau and have done great things but may have slipped into obscurity for one reason or another. A couple of groups immediately came to mind that I have always believed were made up of heroes — the police and the fire departments.
It did not take long before I found an event which reminded me of a recent case. In 2010 there was a shooting in Hoonah that killed two police officers — the trial ended with a guilty verdict this November. Only a few decades earlier, something similar occurred and the names may sound familiar.
On April 17, 1979 Dr. Henry Akiyama was pulling out of his driveway on Evergreen Avenue. He noticed his neighbor, Louis Sorensen, walking down the street toward him with a strange look on his face and a rifle in hand. When he looked back again, Sorensen had raised his rifle to his shoulder and was pointing it at him. Akiyama dove to the seat of his car just as the first shot whizzed past his ear. Akiyama continued to try to get away by trying to drive his car while lying on the seat. A second shot followed that passed through the door and the front seat and stopped in his lower back just to the side of his wallet, leaving a painfully bright red welt but not breaking the skin. A third bullet passed through the front seat, nicking the small of his back and coming to rest between his back and his suit coat. (1)
Dr. Akiyama continued to drive his car the half-mile to his office and called the police. By that time, several other people in the neighborhood had called concerning the shots.
Officers Richard J. Adair, 51, and Jimmy E. Kennedy, 32, were on their lunch break when the call came to police headquarters and though normally they were traffic officers, they responded to the call as backup.
Unfortunately, there were a few things that were not known when the two police officers were sent out. Sorensen, 50, was born and raised in Juneau by a Norwegian father and an Aleut mother. After graduation from Juneau High School he served in the U.S. Army and later worked for the U.S. Geological Survey and the Bureau of Roads.
Around 1959 he quit his job and retreated to the mountains, where he lived off goats until a friend talked him into returning to Juneau.
In the early 1970s he was hospitalized after he experienced a ringing in his ears and voices — he discharged a rifle past both ears to drive away the imagined voices. He received several weeks of treatment at a Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Tacoma, Wash. for schizophrenia and paranoia. Later, he was returned to his job as a state mail clerk at the Dept. of Revenue in Juneau.
On the day of the shooting, Louis left work early complaining about voices again. His supervisor was concerned and called the police and asked them to check on him but got no commitment that an officer would be sent. Louis owned several guns and was considered to be an excellent shot, an excellent hunter.
After shooting at Akiyama, Sorensen went into his home at 1724 Evergreen Avenue and barricaded his windows and doors. His preparations for the shooting spree may have started before that day as police later found photos of the view out each window in the house tacked on the walls by each window. There were also handfuls of ammunition by each window and a silver pail of ammunition was found in the room. Louis had a 30-06, a 30-30, and a .44 pistol.
As the officers drove up to Sorensen’s home, they were met with a volley of shots. The police car was hit at least three times. Other arriving police quickly leaned that both Kennedy and Adair had been fatally wounded. According to the police, Sorensen fired 20 shots from the two rifles. A third officer, Mike Stickler, was shot in the leg. Police did not return fire as they were unable to decide which window the shots came from. They surrounded the house and attempted to fire tear gas into the home but the efforts were unsuccessful. After gunfire from inside the house subsided, officers rushed the house and forced entry. They found Sorensen dead on a bed inside a bedroom with a gunshot to his head from the .44 pistol. (1)
Richard James Adair was born on Oct. 24, 1927 in Huntington Woods, Mich. He was one of three children. He was raised and educated in Deerborn, Mich. and graduated from high school in 1945. At the end of World War II, he joined the U.S. Air Force serving in various U.S. bases from 1945 to 1948. After discharge from the Air Force he returned home and married Doreen Baldwin on Oct. 23, 1948. The couple lived in various locations in Michigan until they moved to Juneau in 1959. By that time the couple had four children. Upon moving to Juneau, Adair worked for the Bureau of Land Management and for the City of Juneau as a draftsman. Finally, in May of 1969, he joined the Juneau Police Department. The gravesite of Adair is located at Evergreen Cemetery in Juneau where he was buried on April 21, 1979. At the last check, several of his family members still lived in Juneau.
Jimmy Earl Kennedy was born on Dec. 13, 1946 in Magee, Miss. to J.C. and Ruby Valentine Kennedy. He also was one of three children. He was raised and went to school there in Magee. After graduation from High School he joined the U.S. Navy and served for four years and was a Vietnam Veteran; honorably discharged in 1969. During that same year Jimmy met and married Patricia Carr. In the next eight years Jimmy played in a country western band and traveled across the country.
During an engagement in Juneau in September of 1976, the couple fell in love with Southeast Alaska and decided they wanted to find a way to move their family there. In the fall of 1977 Jimmy’s band played another engagement in Juneau at the Prospector Hotel and during the six weeks there, he began testing and applying for positions in law enforcement. Three days before his engagement had ended, he was accepted by the Juneau Police Department and moved his family to Juneau. By that time he had two daughters. At the time of his death he had been an officer with the Juneau Police Department for only 18 months. The gravesite of Kennedy is located in Magee Cemetery. It is believed that his wife and daughters now live in Anchorage.
Governor Jay Hammond declared April 17 (the day Kennedy and Adair were killed) each year as the official state observance day for the state of Alaska to honor the state’s law officers. He ordered the state flags in Juneau to be flown at half-staff. That date was later changed to May 15 which became the official Police Memorial Day for the nation. (1)
A local fund drive started by the Capital City Chapter of the Alaska Peace Officers Association raised money to pay funeral expenses and to construct a youth ballpark as a memorial for the two slain officers. The Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park was later dedicated at the Floyd Dryden Middle School off the Mendenhall Loop Road here in Juneau.
1. Forgotten Heroes by Dr. William Wilbanks