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Slain Hoonah officers' faith shaped their lives

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2010

Hoonah police officer Anthony Wallace had a list of questions he wanted to ask God. They ranged from serious biblical interpretations, to some that seemed more applicable to the life he lived in the 800-plus person Tlingit village of Hoonah.

"He wanted to know if he could deer hunt and eat meat in heaven," Jamie Brothers, a former gilfriend of Wallace's, said with a laugh. "He would say, with the biggest grin, 'I am going to ask God why I can't hunt, there have to be deer in heaven.' And he wanted to know if there would be a buffet of meat. It sounds goofy but that was Tony. He had a strong faith but he just had this list."

A mutual friend set up Brothers, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, and Wallace, a Cincinnati Bengals supporter, on a blind date in 2005 in New York before Wallace joined the Hoonah Police Department.

"The teams were in the same division," Brothers laughed. "So that was going to be a problem."

That date turned into a relationship, and through Brothers, and her family, Wallace grew into a religious faith. Brothers visited Wallace in Hoonah, and would cook his favorite "Chicken Swiss."

After they no longer were a couple, they would communicate almost daily as friends. Often Wallace would make a time-zone affected call to Brothers at 4 a.m., her time, and direct her to a particular passage in the Bible that would leave her laughing, explaining or reminding him of the time difference.

"They were his questions," Brothers said. "Things he wrote down that I didn't have an answer for. He was a deep thinker; he said he wanted God to go deeper with him. His favorite passage was 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).' If someone couldn't answer the notes he scribbled in his Bible he would say, 'don't worry about it, I will ask Him when I get there.'"

Brothers remembers the "absolute goofball" in Wallace and his joking about her birthday falling on the same day bow-hunting season opened.

"I may miss the cake but I will take you out to dinner later," Brothers remembers him saying. "And his being partially deaf, driving with him was taking your life in your own hands. He read your lips and anywhere he did look the car would veer."

That partial deafness was not a hindrance to his singing hyms loudly and off-key, and Wallace knew his accomplishments were bigger than his alone, praising God during his induction speech into the Rochester Institute of Technology Sports Hall of Fame and sharing his faith with everyone he came into contact with.

"I know his personal relationship with God, I know he had a strong faith," Brothers said. "That was what he wanted people to know. He and I talked about his faith so much. He would say, 'as soon as I get to heaven I have all these questions... I read the Bible and I don't understand this or this or this.' We joked that there was a lot of preparation that has to go on up there before they are ready for him."

When Brothers would have a difficult moment or doubt her abilities, she said Wallace would remind her of the obstacles he overcame to become an All-American wrestler in college, a police officer, a Scrabble fanatic with a powerful tennis forehand and a respected member of a small Alaskan native community that often is leery of new faces.

Said Brothers, "He would say, 'dude, I am a deaf cop ... I made it, don't tell me you can't.'"

Wallace also told Brothers that reuniting with his daughter Lexis recently was a dream he never thought would come true, she said.

"Somehow, some way the doors opened and he was able to accomplish that," Brothers said. "He wanted that relationship with his daughter ... he always talked about her, he prayed a lot about that."

Hoonah police chief John Millan watched both officers change the dynamics of the Hoonah community through their beliefs.

"Matt (Tokuoka) and I discussed spirituality," Millan said. "He believed in God and believed in being a decent and upright person, living an honorable life, and it reflected in every thing he did."

According to Millan, Tokuoka was never rattled and had a code of honor that was absolutely amazing.

"People felt good being around Matt," Millan said. "He had a commanding presence, not intimidating, he stood out in a quiet way. He was a man of few words, very polite and loving father. His spirituality, and the calm demeanor he had, was one ... and it all played together in the kind of person he was. And he was an amazing police officer and hadn't even been through the academy yet. He was so adept and able and wiling to learn."

Millan said although Tokuoka looked like the former Marine he was, he had a prankster's side.

"This big burly policeman with a shaved head," Millan said. "He looked the part, then he would smile or crack a joke... it was just amazing. I am going to miss those two playing pranks on me every now and again."

Millan also said that after Wallace had visited his daughter Lexis in Ohio recently, he would show Millan pictures of her daily.

"Tony was a committed Christian," Millan said. "A big believer in God and salvation and he would tell you that. He didn't preach or proselytize while he was working but if you asked he would tell you. ... And Matt discussed his spirituality and belief in God to me, he was such an honest and straight-forwardly moral man that it reflected in who and what he was."

Tokuoka, who liked to spend time with his family, would split the work shifts with Wallace, who liked to fish more. Wallace vowed to catch a 200-pound halibut before the c old weather set in, according to Millan.

"I know he is up in heaven catching a 600-hundred pounder for Matt," Millan said. "I know they have test line that can pull one in up there and Matt is helping."

Continued Millan, "They will be impossible to replace. We will get good people and build the department back, but you can't replace people like that... I wouldn't expect to and wouldn't want to try."

Brothers said both men were more than just cops; their jobs were about building relationships with people.

"On their days off they would go to the local gym in Hoonah and play basketball or wrestle with everyone," Brothers said. "When they had their uniforms on, they looked intimidating, but they wanted to be approachable, they wanted people to understand that police officers were there to make their lives better. They believed that everything about Alaska was tied up in that little town."

Haley Tokuoka said her husband's faith was private and should remain so, but both officers moved the mountains surrounding Hoonah with such force that their lives will continue to bear witness of the good in that community.

Debbie Greene told Brothers after being near her son, Wallace, when he was shot she knew he was going to be with God, Brothers said.

Said Brothers emotionally, "It was like every single dream he ever had came true. And now it was time for him to go home, and that was how he looked at it. His faith was strong and he knew he was put on this Earth for a reason. He didn't know what that reason was but he would call me and say, 'I was able to do this today in Hoonah... and I know there is a reason I was the only one able to do it."

• Contact Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.



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