Massacre survivors try to forget McCarthy's fateful day

Posted: Monday, August 03, 1998

McCARTHY - To look at Chris Richards, you wouldn't guess he survived a massacre. But 15 years ago, a man he considered a friend shot him three times and killed six other people in this remote mountain settlement.

Richards and another person survived Louis Hastings' shooting spree on March 1, 1983, and now McCarthy wants to put the horrible memories behind it.

``I'm having a good life. My biggest worry is picking up cigarette butts from the bench'' in front of his guiding service, Richards said during a July interview.

Many residents in McCarthy, a town deep inside the Wrangell Mountains about 250 miles east of Anchorage, say they would like to forget the killings and Hastings, a computer programmer who moved to Anchorage from Palo Alto, Calif. He was spending about half of his time in McCarthy, repairing a cabin he had purchased, when the killings occurred.

``There's nothing to think about or talk about. One person lost his mind and killed people,'' said Randy Elliott, who was in Hawaii learning how to fly at the time. Elliott now operates a restaurant at the end of the McCarthy Road, a rough, 60-mile gravel path that's the only overland way into town.

Hastings pleaded no contest to the killings and was sentenced to 634 years. He is serving his sentence at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan.

The federal Bureau of Prisons lists Hastings' release date as Feb. 28, 2617.

The six people Hastings killed were part of a community that prided itself on its self-sufficiency. McCarthy, even now, is a difficult place to get to in the summer, and even more daunting in the winter, when the road frequently is impassable.

Donna Byram, who came to the airstrip and was planning to fly out that morning, was injured but managed to hide from Hastings.

``The guy wiped out half the town,'' Richards, 45, said.

And for Richards, who has permanent double vision, nerve damage and a plastic eye socket, Hastings' motive still remains a puzzle.

``I basically considered him to be a quiet, serious guy,'' Richards said. ``I considered him a friend.''

The night before the rampage, Richards and Hastings spent the evening playing Risk, the board game of world domination. Hastings even won, Richards points out.

At his sentencing hearing, Hastings testified that he planned to kill everyone in McCarthy, hijack the mail plane and fly to Glennallen. Once there, he planned to hijack a fuel truck and drive to a trans-Alaska oil pipeline pump station, where he was going to blow up the station and himself.

Public Defender John Salemi, who represented Hastings, remembers him as one of the smartest people he has ever defended. Salemi wasn't able to convince the court Hastings was insane, but he still thinks some form of mental illness drove Hastings to the killings.

``I think there was a profound depression which was overlaid on some strange thought disorder,'' Salemi said.

``He was trying to accomplish, I guess, a form of environmental terrorism. He was going to blow up the pipeline because he was very displeased with the way oil development had affected Alaska,'' Salemi said.

Salemi still is troubled by this thought: if he wanted to blow up a pump station, why was it necessary to kill everyone in McCarthy?

``When you looked at it, it's clearly crazy,'' he said.

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