FAIRBANKS - Fresh tracks cut through the snow at Birch Hill Cemetery to Quincy Hutchens' grave, and as the December sun hung low, casting a glow over the city below, Deborah Hutchens followed the trail to a white bench.
"I know it's Quincy's friends," Hutchens said of the unknown visitor or visitors. "I don't know which ones."
Quincy is Hutchens' 23-year-old son who was shot to death in the woods at the end of South Cushman Street along with his friend, 22-year-old Brad Hurd. After more than two years, the killings remain unsolved. Alaska State Troopers are being customarily quiet about the details of the investigation, leaving both families with more questions than answers as they continue to cope with the loss of two young men.
Hutchens, joined by her granddaughter, Aura, crouched in front of the bench and began digging in the snow. Several messages have been scrawled on the bench. One says, "I miss ya."
Beneath the snow, the grandmother and granddaughter unveiled a green road sign labeled Quincy Court, along with some plastic poinsettia flowers. Somewhere still buried was a Crown Royal bag holding a pack of Marlboros and a lighter.
"Every time I come up, there's something new here," Hutchens said.
Three investigators have worked the homicide case. The latest investigator, Yvonne Howell, said the probe remains active and has told Hutchens, along with Hurd's mother, Kim Hoyt of Kansas, that she will solve it. Howell's determination seems promising, but after two years the mothers' confidence is shaky.
Hoyt thinks about her son every day. During the holidays since losing Brad, Hoyt hangs his Christmas stocking along with the stockings of her other children.
"For the longest time, I would call his cell phone just so I could hear his voice, but they finally cut it off," Hoyt said by telephone. "It's so hard, but I have four more kids that I have to worry about."
Recently, authorities in Florida closed the infamous case involving Adam Walsh, a 6-year-old who was killed after being abducted from a mall and whose father, John, hosts the TV show "America's Most Wanted."
Hoyt thinks that if the Walsh murder can be solved after 27 years, her son's case will be solved someday, too.
At the time of the killings, Quincy was a furniture mover who had recently returned to Fairbanks after living awhile in Anchorage. Brad was a supervisor at Quizno's Subs on Airport Way.
Hurd often slept at the Hutchens home and almost was like another member of the family, Deborah Hutchens said.
Both men were still finding their way in life, but they were well-liked by the people around them. Members of the Congregation Or HaTzafon described Quincy as dependable. Hurd's boss described him as a go-getter.
Hutchens was born in Fairbanks. Hurd, who was born in Louisiana, moved here with his family in 2001 and stayed after his family left a few years later. His stepfather is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army.
The only person publicly named as a suspect in the killings is Brandon Steward, although it happened in a roundabout way during an unrelated court hearing. Howell refused to comment on whether authorities have ruled out the drug dealer and informant for the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement. Steward was shot to death a few months after Hutchens and Hurd. His killer is serving a 30-year prison sentence.
Deborah Hutchens said her son knew Steward. The men were not on friendly terms. Not long after her son's slaying, Hutchens received a call that raised her suspicions about Steward's involvement. She called troopers and was told that they were looking for the 23-year-old. Steward was killed a week later.
Hutchens does not know why her son had gone to the woods at the end of South Cushman Street at such a late hour. Because Hoyt lived across the country from her son, she was not privy to his day-to-day comings and goings.
All Hutchens knows about her grown son's whereabouts that night is that he picked up Hurd from work and then drove to North Pole to pull someone out of a ditch. He later picked up Hurd's girlfriend from work. Her shift usually ended at midnight.
A dog walker found the men's bodies near Quincy Hutchens' pickup truck on the morning of Oct. 26, 2006.
Naming a killer won't bring back her son, Deborah Hutchens said.
"Nothing is going to change whether someone is arrested or not," she said.
Hoyt is less philosophical.
"If this kid was in jail and locked up like he should have been, than (maybe) my son would still be alive," she said.
Steward's mother, who also is grieving the loss of a son, said that whatever Brandon might have been mixed up in, he paid with his life.
In the months after Quincy was slain, Deborah Hutchens said things got worse for her family before they got better. One of Hutchens' children wound up in the hospital, unable to deal with his grief. Another is in treatment as a consequence of violently losing a sibling. A third is learning to cope with multiple sclerosis.
Nick Hutchens, Quincy's 20-year-old brother, said he feared for his family in the wake of the killings. The brothers were close. In earlier years, they shot BB guns together and played cowboys and Indians.
"I didn't know what it was about," Nick Hutchens said of the killings. "I feel like whoever killed him really took something from me and my family."
In the midst of the turmoil, there was cause for hope. Deborah Hutchens met her grandson - Quincy's son - 3-year-old Cyruss. The boy never got to meet his father.
Deborah pulled a pictureboard from the top of a shelf in her living room. Cyruss pointed to a baby picture of Quincy and said, "That's Cyruss," making his grandmother smile. The father and son share many qualities, including a pointy right ear.
Cyruss' routine visits are therapeutic for the Hutchens family.
"When I see him put Hot Wheels in his Carhartts' pockets, I think that that's something that Quincy used to do," Hutchens said. "He's got the same good spirit as his dad."
Aside from acquiring a couple of rambunctious bloodhounds, the Hutchens household is relatively calm these days.
Quincy's banking lender recently mailed his mother the title to his truck, a newer model Ford Ranger. The truck, which has bullet holes, is considered evidence and authorities are holding it. The vehicle contains many of Quincy's personal belongings, including an iPod and a sword collection.
The truck and its contents will be returned to the Hutchens family after the case is closed.
"We were a close family before," Hutchens said. "We're definitely a close family now, but there's a hole. When a hole the size of this one has been ripped in a family, there is no closure. The edges will smooth with time, but they will never seal."