State Briefs

Posted: Thursday, January 03, 2002

Survivor of 1983 McCarthy massacre killed in fatal fire

ANCHORAGE - Chris Richards, the self-proclaimed mayor of the ghost town of Kennicott who died in a cabin fire before Christmas, was remembered by friends and relatives over the holidays as a rough-edged Alaskan who cared deeply about his neighbors, his dog and the fate of his historic Wrangell Mountain hometown.

He was also remembered as a man haunted by the 1983 mass murders in nearby McCarthy, which took the lives of six of his neighbors and friends. Richards, wounded in that attack by killer Lou Hastings, was the only local resident to survive, though he remained tormented by guilt and depression.

When his cabin went up in flames Dec. 19 with Richards inside, more than one person who knew him said Hastings had finally claimed a seventh life.

On March 1, 1983, only two people were living at Kennicott: Richards and Hastings, a quiet computer programmer. That day, Hastings went on a rampage, killing six. Hastings is serving multiple life sentences at a federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo.

"People told Chris he'd been a hero that day and saved lives, but he said he couldn't get there in his mind," said Sally Gibert, an Anchorage friend with long ties to the McCarthy area. "At his heart Chris was very generous and sweet, but Hastings injected this anger and poison in him that he never could work out."

With his broomstraw beard, Richards was a fixture in the small community at the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Richards, 48, lived alone in a small red millworker's house at the Kennicott mill site. His cabin looked out on the immense Kennicott Glacier.

In summer, Richards guided tourists through the historic mine buildings, free of charge, giving acid lectures about tourist misbehavior and what he saw as overzealous park regulators.

"Everyone told me Chris had been leading a tormented life," said trooper Sgt. Carl Erickson, who looked into the cabin fire but found no evidence of foul play.

Youth home in Nome closed while staff misconduct investigated

ANCHORAGE State officials have temporarily closed a Nome youth home until they complete an investigation into reports of staff misconduct.

The state Division of Family and Youth Services closed the Nome Receiving Home on Friday based on reports of problems from within the home, according to Theresa Tanoury, division director.

No juveniles at the home have been hurt or sexually assaulted, officials at the home and with DFYS emphasized. Tanoury said the problems were administrative but declined to be more specific.

On Wednesday, state officials began a licensing investigation they expect to finish within the next two weeks. Tanoury said the state is withholding referrals to the facility until the investigation is done.

The nonprofit facility serves as an emergency shelter for juveniles, mostly teen-agers, removed from troubled homes in Nome and surrounding villages. The state pays for six of eight beds. State funding for the facility totals $349,000 in the 2001-2002 fiscal year.

Three teen-agers who were scheduled to stay at the shelter before the closure were sent elsewhere.

The home has struggled to meet licensing regulations that require a certain level of staff training or education, Tanoury said. State and elected officials said they want to avoid closing the facility altogether.

Johnson picked to head U.S. Marshals Service

FAIRBANKS President Bush has nominated a longtime employee of the U.S. Marshals Service to head the agency in Alaska.

Randy Johnson of Anchorage would become marshal for the District of Alaska, if confirmed by the Senate.

Johnson, 50, has supervised operations for the service since 1989. If confirmed as marshal he will take over both operations and administrative duties. Marshals provide federal court security, chase fugitives and transport prisoners between courts and prison. In Alaska, the federal government holds court in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Nome, Juneau and Ketchikan.

Marshals also seize and auction illegally used property and operate in armed tactical groups during special operations.

As marshal, Johnson would be in charge of 12 law enforcement personnel and six administrative staff members in Anchorage.

John Murphy, who held the marshal post for the past six years, described Johnson as capable and knowledgeable.

"He knows the issues up here with the marshals service," he said Wednesday.

Murphy left the job in October and was hired as Alaska-area security manager for the General Services Administration's Federal Protective Service.

Johnson said he was asked by the White House not to say much about his nomination until after he is confirmed. He first came to Alaska with the Army in 1972 and was stationed at Fort Greely. He later earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Iowa.

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