Michael Palmer 1999-06-04


By Karen Aho, Daily News Reporter, July 17, 1999

Friday marked six weeks to the day since a Wasilla teenager vanished late at night from a rural intersection.

On Wednesday, a group of criminal investigators gathered in a conference room to piece together, minute by minute, everything they've learned from hundreds of tips, some three dozen interviews and a handful of polygraph tests about his disappearance.

Early next week, they'll trudge back with search dogs to the riverbank where the investigation first began, where 15-year-old Michael Palmer's bicycle and shoes were found. None of the leads ever panned out, Alaska State Troopers said.

"So far everybody that was listed as a suspect has passed with flying colors," trooper Lt. Jay Yakopatz said. That doesn't mean troopers have ruled out foul play, Yakopatz said. And it doesn't mean they have any new reason to suspect Palmer's body is near the river. But this time they're using more highly trained search dogs to cover more ground.

"It may not just be Michael; it may be some evidence out there that the initial search didn't see," said 1st Sgt. Paul Burke, who heads the troopers' search and rescue unit.

For the family, things just get tougher. One of his brothers got married this month in a celebration absent the family's youngest boy.

"I'm just hanging on by a thread. We all are," his mother, Lisa Palmer, said Friday. "It gets harder and harder every day."

Palmer can't understand why someone isn't coming forward with information. Someone is holding back, she said. "Somebody knows something. They've got to," she said.

Palmer was last seen by his friends about 4 a.m. June 4 at Pittman Road and Silver Drive after a high school graduation party. His bicycle was found the next day in the Little Susitna River. His wet shoes had been placed neatly together on an airstrip about 200 yards away.

Troopers don't believe he fell into the river. The water is shallow and clear and runs into a logjam a little more than a mile downstream.

Within two weeks, troopers received dozens of calls, many from teenagers who had attended any of a slew of parties held in the area that week.

At least three anonymous callers to Crime Stoppers and troopers said Palmer had been hit in the head in a fight at a second party, Yakopatz said. Troopers tracked people down who were there and finally learned that Palmer had never been at that party.

Troopers got reports that Palmer had left a party with two people in a blue sedan. Then the sedan turned up in Valdez. Two investigators flew down immediately. Right people, right car. Wrong party.

With posters of Palmer scattered throughout Southcentral Alaska, the calls still come, although they seem to be dwindling, his mother said. About two weeks ago he was mistakenly placed at a biker party in Talkeetna.

Yakopatz said troopers have about five more polygraph tests to administer. According to Lisa Palmer, who calls troopers daily for updates, one person has refused to take a polygraph and hired a lawyer.

She thinks her son has been abducted. She's hoping he has some kind of amnesia, which would explain why he hasn't called.

"Something happened on that corner," she said. "Michael never would have turned and gone down to the river."

Mostly, she wants people to know that her son is a good boy, one who has long abided by his mother's overprotective ways. She said she always demanded to know where he was, and he always called. He had never run away, she said.

When Lisa Palmer got home at 12:30 a.m. June 4 from Providence Alaska Medical Center, where she works the night shift as a nursing assistant, she called the house where Michael was staying. His friend's mother said the boys were sleeping in the clubhouse out back as planned. Lisa Palmer went to bed.

When Michael didn't come home later that day, she learned he and his three friends had actually snuck out and ridden their bicycles to the party. His friends said Michael drank a couple of beers but didn't become intoxicated.

Michael became separated from his three friends on the way home when they rode on ahead.

She said the family is offering a "large" reward for information in addition to the $1,000 reward being offered by Crime Stoppers.

Palmer is white, 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighs about 110 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes.