FAIRBANKS — The list starts with Alice Baldwin, killed in 1972, and ends with Johnny Wallis, a Fairbanks man who died in January after he was found on fire in the lobby of the downtown Fairbanks post office.
A list of 37 names, all associated with unsolved Interior Alaska murder cases, was read aloud Friday afternoon in St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church at the annual Gathering of Remembrance. A candle was lit for each victim.
Friday also marked the 20th anniversary of the murder of a young Yup’ik woman, Sophie Sergie, on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. Every year since Sophie’s body was found in a bathroom on the second floor of Bartlett Hall, a memorial vigil, march or service has been held on the campus or in downtown Fairbanks.
“Growing up, we used to tease her a lot. We’d have fun together. It was just me and her, a small family,” her brother Alexie Sergie said. “For those of you who are missing loved ones who were murdered, never give up hope.”
The annual commemorative event for missing persons and victims of unsolved murders was started by community activist Shirley Demientieff. Shortly before Demientieff’s death in 2007, she passed the baton to the Rev. Shirley Lee.
Many homicide victims had friends or family to light their candles at the service, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. “In other cases, attendees volunteered to light candles to remember people they never met.
“It is very frustrating that this list of names I read is growing not shrinking,” Lee said.
“Each one of us is here today because we have all been touched by these tragedies,” she said, citing examples of some cases. “A young boy shot, only 8 or 9 years old, a younger mother stabbed to death and then to have her live baby placed upon her, a man beaten to death, a man on fire. So many heartbreaking tragedies.”
Two Alaska State Troopers from the state’s cold case unit attended the ceremony. A common thread in unsolved cases is that information from just one person could help justice prevail.
“There’s somebody out there who knows what happened,” Lee said. “There’s always hope that we’ll know the truth.”
The most recent addition to the list is Wallis, whose teenage daughter lit his candle. His death has not officially been ruled a homicide but is considered a suspicious death because the cause of the fire has not been explained.
After the service, the audience marched to the post office, candles in hand.