Matthew David Nelson, 05-15-02

Body of youth found near river identified
MISSING Matthew Nelson had run away from group home.

The Associated Press
(Published: July 20, 2002)

Bethel -- A decomposed body found on the bank of the Kuskokwim River has been identified as a missing 17-year-old Bethel boy.

Matthew David Nelson was reported missing after he ran away from the Bethel Group Home in May. The cause of death has not officially been established, although police speculate Nelson drowned.

Nelson, originally from Chevak, arrived in Bethel less than a year ago. He was the first student in the region to earn the new General Education Diploma at the Adult Basic Education Center this year.

Teachers remembered Nelson as a bright and motivated student and frequent volunteer at the center. They also remembered another side -- a young man scarred by a troubled family life.

Nelson ran away from the group home May 15, shortly after a graduation ceremony at the center. Teachers were saddened but not shocked, said center director Kathy Hanson.

"We ask ourselves what we could have done," Hanson told The Tundra Drums. "He could have graduated from college and gone on. That part of him was glued together. Who knows what he could have done."

Nelson's body was found about four miles downriver from Bethel July 5 by a Bethel resident who was gathering driftwood.

The body was transported to the medical examiner's office in Anchorage for an autopsy.

Nelson was identified July 12 by documents found with him and through fingerprints, said Franc Fallico, acting chief medical examiner. The autopsy is not yet concluded.

Meanwhile, police continue to investigate.

Sgt. Terry Stonecipher said there doesn't appear to be any foul play involved. He said the body was found washed up on the bank, suggesting Nelson drowned.

Others aren't so sure.

"I guess it could have been an accident but I don't know anyone that thinks it was an accident," Hanson said. "Matt didn't have his own boat and there was no boat found on the scene. He got out there somehow and somebody knows he died."