Michael J. Callaway 8/30/98 Johnson Pass Camper Gunshot

Teenager dies in prank - Joke turns tragic when camper, fearing bear, kills friend
By Rachel D'Oro, ADN 8/31/98

A 17-year-old Anchorage boy died early Sunday after he was shot in the dark by a friend who mistook him for a bear near Johnson Pass Trail on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska State Troopers said.

Michael J. Callaway and another boy were trying to scare a group of friends when the shooting occurred about 1:30 a.m. on an old mining road near the trail head, said trooper Sgt. Mike Marrs.  Callaway was struck in the upper leg and apparently bled to death while his friends drove him back to Anchorage 60 miles away, Marrs said.

Callaway was pronounced dead at Providence Alaska Medical Center.  Troopers were calling the shooting an accident, but said their investigation is continuing. Marrs would not identify the shooter, an 18-year-old boy from Anchorage, nor the five other teens, who ranged in age from 16 to 19.

"This is a very tragic event for all involved," Marrs said.  "Obviously, no one meant for this to happen."

The group had planned to spend the night at a cabin that belonged to the shooter's family, Marrs said.  The friends arrived in two vehicles shortly after midnight, parking a small sports utility vehicle at the trail head parking lot near Mile 63 of the Seward Highway.  After the shooter unlocked a gate leading to the private road, the friends piled into a pickup truck and drove 21/2 miles to the cabin.

Marrs said the teens brought beer.  "There was drinking, but we don't know how significantly it was involved," he said.  "They weren't there too long when all this occurred."

After interviewing witnesses, Marrs said, troopers put together this chain of events:

The four girls and one of the boys set out on a walk along the mining road while Callaway and the other boy stayed in the cabin.  The five had one small flashlight between them, but it didn't provide much light in the pitch dark, Marrs said.

Minutes after their friends left, Callaway and the other boy decided to play a joke on them, Marrs said.  The plan: They would cut through the dense forest of alder and willow brush where the road curves, then pop out in front of the others.  Marrs said they knew their friend had brought a .44-caliber Magnum handgun on the trip.

The two ran toward the group, probably in a crouch because no one could see them, even as they got close, Marrs said.  The five teens only heard brush crackle and saw it bend as something raced toward them.  Bears are not uncommon in the area, so they had good reason to be afraid, Marrs said.

Holding the gun, the teenager shouted, " 'Is that you guys?  That's not funny,' " Marrs said.  No one answered, and the teen shouted again.  He told troopers he waited as long as he could and then fired, believing a bear was about to attack.
When the five saw it was their friend, the teens wrapped a tourniquet around Callaway's leg then put him in the open bed of the truck, Marrs said.  After going a short distance, the pickup broke down.  While the others waited, the shooter ran almost two miles to get the sport-utility vehicle, Marrs said.

But with Callaway slipping into shock, the teenagers raced back to Anchorage without stopping, Marrs said.  It's unclear at what time Callaway actually died, Marrs said. At Providence, a hospital worker called Anchorage police, who notified troopers at 4:20 a.m., before Callaway was formally pronounced dead.

Marrs said the youths never stopped for help between the trail head and Anchorage because they had lost so much time and were frantic to get their friend to the hospital.

Sunday afternoon, the dead boy's mother, Marsha Callaway, was crying when she answered the phone at the family's South Anchorage home.  She said her son graduated this year from Service High School and had enrolled at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

He was to start college today, she said.

Sandy Pomeroy, a counselor at Service, described Callaway as an easy-going teen with a lot of friends.

"He was so eager to get on with his life," Pomeroy said.  "He had gently endured high school but to him, life went beyond the halls of school."

An autopsy is planned for today or Tuesday, a trooper spokesman said.