Tenakee looks for justice

Posted: Monday, March 01, 2004

TENAKEE SPRINGS - Maggie Wigen's neighbors haven't forgotten the 19-year-old woman who was murdered here 11 months ago.

They don't want the Alaska justice system to forget either.

"There is a killer out there, and he got away with it pretty easily," Juan Munoz said Saturday. He was one of roughly 40 residents meeting at the Tenakee Springs Community Center to discuss frustrations with the investigation into her death.

Wigen, a resident of Juneau and Tenakee, was reported missing from her Tenakee home on March 28, 2003. She was 19 at the time of her disappearance.

Tuck Harry, who moderated the meeting, said this time of year there are only about 60 people living in the Chichagof Island community, about 45 miles southwest of Juneau and accessible only by boat and floatplane.

Crime in the community is virtually unknown, he said. People are honest enough that on the ground in front of the basketball hoop outside of the school there were two balls Saturday, available for anyone who wanted to play.

From the school, it's a short walk to the scene of the crime that remains on residents' minds.

"It's kind of sad, walking down the trail not knowing if you're meeting (the killer) or not," said resident Edna Paddock.

The city is built on either side of an unpaved path. Some homes and buildings, such as a seasonal lodge and the school, are on the hill above the road. On the Tenakee Inlet side, many buildings stand at least partially on supports over the rocky beach.

People greet each other by name along the road. They recognize each other's dogs.

Wigen's dog never went anywhere with out her, Harry said. She was reported missing after a neighbor saw the dog on March 26, and returned it to Wigen's green home, up 66 steps overlooking the center of town.

Most of the community was involved in the search.

"They just invented as needed," Fire Chief Pete Bogart said of their techniques. "They just went out and did it."

Alaska State Troopers and dog teams from Juneau and Sitka searched, as local residents continued their efforts.

A lone resident, continuing the effort after Troopers called off the search, found Wigen while digging at a dam site in a stream 50 feet from the missing woman's home.

Paddock said that when she rides the ferry, people who hear she's from Tenakee ask her about Wigen and about what happened.

She answers, "You know as much as I do."

Other neighbors said Saturday they still didn't know how she died. Several said they heard during the last 11 months that an arrest was imminent. Vice Mayor Roger Lewis said he heard a rumor there would be an arrest before Saturday's meeting.

The only thing official the community received Saturday was a written response to their questions about the case from Juneau District Attorney Patrick Gullufsen. He wrote that the investigation continues. He added that Alaska Attorney General Gregg Renkes is aware of their concerns.

"It would, however, compromise that investigation and have consequences adverse to a future criminal prosecution if the details of the information that have been gathered were to be divulged and discussed publicly at this time," he wrote.

Resident Bruce Burwell questioned the message, particularly what Gullufsen meant by calling the case "a top priority."

"The letter to me seemed to be a whitewash," he added.

"This was a solvable murder," resident Rachel Myron said, stressing a concern expressed by others that mistakes may have been made when evidence was being gathered.

Those concerns were shared with investigators as early as last spring, according to copies of letters set to Troopers.

Several people referred to things discovered in Wigen's home by her mother after the search was called off. She was told it was fine to clean up the house.

Residents also asked questions about physical evidence, possibly DNA, not yet being analyzed.

"If they do have evidence that hasn't been processed, let's get it processed," Munoz said.

Greg Wilkinson, spokesman for the Alaska State Troopers in Anchorage, told the Empire last week that while the department continues to work on the case, discussing details would hurt the case.

Harry said the Troopers weren't asked to come to Saturday's meeting, because nobody wanted to take money away from the investigation.

"Eleven months is a long time," said J.C. Tomas, standing in the back of the room.

Brooke Elgie suggested supporting the troopers with a bake sale.

Cathy Munoz said she wants to know if there is enough evidence to solve the case.

Mayor Shelly Wilson, holding her month-old daughter, said she is frustrated with the progress of the case, but added she never had any experience with murder.

She also said she has been impressed with how the community has responded to the tragedy. Although people shared information with Troopers on the actions of a possible suspect, people aren't spreading that information as rumor.

"We don't tell anybody anything," she said. "It's probably the first time in all of our lives that we've refused to spread rumors."

Myron said she was pleased with the way the community pulled together.

"I think it's impressive how people came together in a crisis," she said. "The people who came down here today all participated in the search."



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