Trenton Michael Tunohun 07-27-09

Body found in Matanuska River believed Palmer teen's
RUNNING SCARED: Palmer party ends in tragedy for 'good kid' spooked by cops.

By RINDI WHITE,, Published: August 27th, 2009

Palmer Police believe they have found the body of 17-year-old Trenton Michael Tunohun of Palmer, missing since July 27.

Tunohun's body was found Wednesday night by a Palmer-area resident riding a four-wheeler on the river, partially washed onto a gravel bar on the west side of the Matanuska River, about a mile and a half downstream from the bridge, Palmer Public Safety Director Jon Owen said.

He was one of four youths who fled into the woods when police showed up in response to a report of a bloodied man staggering near the bridge.

Although state medical examiners haven't officially confirmed it was Tunohun, Owen said the clothing and shoes exactly matched what Tunohun's friends said he wore the night he disappeared, "down to the logo on his shirt."

"We can only deduce what happened -- that he fell in the water and was washed downstream," Owen said.

Tunohun's mother, Sarah Angol, said her son was getting ready to leave in September for basic training in the National Guard. He was a proud young man who played guitar and keyboard and had a great sense of humor, she said. He had graduated from the Alaska Military Youth Academy in March and "was really looking forward to getting out of Palmer."

"I don't want him to be remembered for these circumstances. He was drinking at the river and ran, but that wasn't all of Trenton," she said. "He was a good kid."

Owen said he couldn't recall in the five years he had been at Palmer Public Safety another death on the river so close to town. But the river was high that week, and there are several areas near town where woods end abruptly in rocky bluffs that could surprise someone running.

After the search was called off, people on four-wheelers continued to look for Tunohun nearly every day, Owen said. So did his family. "I've been up and down it looking for him," his mother said. She is a parole officer for the state and has two other children.

Palmer Police Detective Sgt. Kelly Turney said he has no reason to suspect foul play, or any cause of death other than drowning.

Angol said she doesn't either.

"It's a very dangerous river. He could very easily have fallen in," she said.

Tunohun's death was preceded by some bad choices he and his friends made. He had been cited once before for minor consuming in 2008 and, according to court records, was still on probation at the time of his death. Angol said no one knows for sure that Tunohun was drinking when he disappeared. But he was clearly with others who were.

After interviewing eight juveniles and two adults who were at the river that night, officers pieced together what apparently happened: a man and woman and eight teens were at the river, some of them drinking, when a fight broke out.

Turney said dispatchers received a call early July 27 reporting a bloody man intoxicated and staggering near the Matanuska River Bridge. An argument had turned physical between the adults -- 36-year-old Troy Johnson and 33-year-old Jody Johnson, police said.

One of the juveniles present -- not Tunohun -- brandished a gun in an effort to stop the fight. The gun was later recovered at the scene. It had not been fired.

Troy Johnson and a juvenile reported being injured. Turney said the case has not yet been forwarded to the Palmer District Attorney's office, which will decide whether to file charges against anyone.

After a Palmer Police officer spoke with Troy Johnson, Turney said the officer drove to the vehicle pull-out on the Palmer side of the river to speak with the juveniles and Jody Johnson.

"When they saw a marked police vehicle and an officer step out and say 'come here,' they ran into the woods," Turney said. It's a familiar teen response, he said, including for such minor violations as being out after curfew.

Tunohun was one of the teens who ran.

His friends reported him missing the next day and a search began. Owen said between 35 and 40 people looked for him Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mat-Su Borough Dive Rescue team searched the river in an airboat and a jet boat, he said. Troopers searched with a helicopter.

They called it off Wednesday night after finding no sign of Tunohun.

Angol said she's been overwhelmed by the support from people in the community. She said knowing her son is dead is difficult, but better than not knowing.

"It's hard now because it's real and you have to give up any hope. I'm very glad we found him so we can bury him and give him a good memorial and celebrate him," she said.

A memorial service is being planned, she said.