Town in shock grieves for family

Posted: Friday, March 28, 2008

SITKA - In a town still in shock over allegations that an 18-year-old man stabbed four people to death and tried to kill another earlier this week, friends and relatives contrasted the gruesome deaths with descriptions of the victims' kind and generous spirits.

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Chris Miller /The Associated Press
Chris Miller /The Associated Press

Sitka police said that Jason Abbott, fresh out of jail from being charged with assaulting his mother, on Tuesday killed his grandparents, John and Alice Abbott; his aunt, Elizabeth Abbott; her boyfriend, Charles Tate; and tried to stab his aunt, Mary Ricketts, to death. Ricketts was hospitalized after the attack.

Jason Abbott pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to four counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. As of Thursday afternoon, he was still in the Sitka jail, awaiting transfer to the Lemon Creek Correctional Center in Juneau, his attorney Jude Pate said.

His mother, Kathy Jack, said through her pastor she had visited her son and explained to him she was deeply heartbroken over what had happened. She told Jason Abbott she loved him and would be praying for him because he needed help. She also asked that others pray for his soul as well, said the Rev. Bill Welch, senior pastor at the Sitka Assembly of God.

Welch said the surviving members of the Abbott family were trying to process what happened and were trying to guard their privacy. He said family members were eager to get back into the house of John and Alice Abbott, where police had been examining the crime scene since Tuesday.

Two separate funds have been set up to pay for funeral and other expenses for the family and a memorial service is being planned.

Around this town of about 9,000 people, residents said they were still in shock.

The Abbotts were well-known, many said, and had a history of being good athletes.

Elizabeth Abbott, 40, had been an exceptional runner, said Sitka resident Marie Gordon, who worked with Tate and Alice Abbott at the Super 8 motel near the Abbott's house. Elizabeth Abbott was one of Southeast Alaska's best cross-country runners and a basketball player.

"(Elizabeth) was really friendly," said Gordon, who has known the family for years. "She was always smiling when I saw her."

Jason Abbott's grandmother, Alice Abbott, would have turned 69 today.

Alice Abbott, who was found outside her home covered in blood and later died on an operating table, was known by neighbors and acquaintances as a quiet, hard-working woman devoted to her family.

Welch said it was clear that family members who were at the hospital when she died "cared for her very much."

Friends described Jason Abbott's 69-year-old grandfather, John Abbott, as a gentle, unassuming man.

He had retired from his job as a city meter reader a few years ago. Prior to that, he'd worked at the Alaska Pulp Corp. mill. Friends said he had damaged his lungs there and was frequently hospitalized in recent years.

During interviews, former co-workers called him a hard worker, devoted to his family. They recalled small details of his life, such as his fondness for apple juice or the soft touch he had with residents who hadn't paid their utility bill on time.

"He was just so thoughtful of everyone. He was just a wonderful man," said John Stivison, a former co-worker who still works in the Sitka Electric Department. "I don't think John would even step on a spider. He'd go around it."

Russ von Hagen said even though he only worked with Abbott for two years in the mid-1990s, the man made a sizable impression on his life because of his humility and kind nature.

"I loved John Abbott," von Hagen said. "If ever there was a guy that the beatitudes apply to ... that's him. That's the guy."

John Abbott liked to talk about Little League baseball and was very proud of his grandson Jason, von Hagen said.

The Sitka Sentinel reported Thursday that John Abbott had written a letter to the editor of the paper in 2000 and "proudly reported" on his grandson's performance during a Little League game. John Abbott also thanked his grandson's coach, for "helping my Jason. Jason has really improved in more ways than one."

Around that same period, John Abbott and his family had to bury his son, John Abbott III, after he drowned. That was Jason Abbott's uncle.

A cousin, Robert Miller, said John Abbott had gathered a group of basketball players who would compete in the 2000 Juneau Lions Club Gold Medal Basketball Tournament at his son's funeral and told them to "play hard for my son."

The Rev. Randy Russom of Sitka Presbyterian Church said he'd visited with John Abbott about 40 times at the hospital in recent years because of his frequent illnesses. Russom said he and Abbott talked frequently about his grandson, and said John Abbott was one of Jason Abbott's biggest supporters.

"John prayed for Jason constantly. He prayed for him and wanted the best for him," Russom said.

Family and former co-workers of Charles Tate painted a picture of the man similar to that of John Abbott.

At the Super 8 motel, where Tate was in charge of maintenance, co-workers said they were still in shock and were still calling the maintenance office, "Chucky's office."

"I don't think (some staff members) really believe it yet," said the motels' general manager, Roxanna Felbush. "It's gonna take a while, I think, for everybody to realize that he's not going to be coming through that door, and we're going to have to pick up the pieces and go on and remember him how he was."

Co-workers said Tate was a kind, laid-back guy who knew how to fix everything from broken plumbing to temperamental computers.

"We're lost without him. Something breaks and we don't know what to do," said Gordon, who works at the motel's front desk. She said Jason used to come over to her house to play with her son.

Gordon said Alice Abbott used to worked at the motel as a housekeeper and was close to Tate. She said she often saw Tate taking Alice Abbott to garage sales around town.

"He was nice," Gordon said. "He was so sweet."

Charles Tate's brother George said Charles left his hometown of Nome after his older brother committed suicide. He said Charles Tate ended up in Sitka about eight or nine years ago and soon began dating Elizabeth Abbott.

During a visit to Sitka a few years ago, George Tate, who lives in Nome, said Charles and Elizabeth seemed quite happy together.

"She really loved my brother," George Tate said. "And that made me happy that ... they were in love."

George Tate said when he tried to call his brother's cell phone earlier this year and found it had been disconnected, he assumed he knew where he had spent his money, instead of paying his phone bill.

"I kinda figured he must've spent his money on Liz," Tate said. "He really loved her."

• Contact reporter Alan Suderman at 523-2268 or

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