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Haines mayor confirms identity of 2 people missing after landslide

A kindergarten teacher and a businessman are missing after a large landslide swept down a...
A kindergarten teacher and a businessman are missing after a large landslide swept down a mountain in Haines.
Published: Dec. 3, 2020 at 1:01 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Haines Mayor Douglas Olerud has confirmed the identities of two people who are missing after a landslide was reported in the Beach Road extension area.

David Simmons, 30, and Jenae Larson are still missing. They lived in the landslide area on 608 Beach Road South, a relative said.

Four other people who were previously missing in the landslide have been found safe, Alaska State Troopers said in a dispatch. Olerud said the search and rescue efforts are ongoing for Larson and Simmons.

Simmons was recently named the interim executive director of the Haines Economic Development Corp.

In a release about his position in August, the corporation said Simmons was previously a Fulbright scholar at the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, Belarus and he started a transportation and tour business in Haines and the Yukon Territory in 2017.

Two hours before the landslide occurred on Wednesday, Simmons’ father, Randy Simmons, said they had a “wonderful conversation” talking about all the good work David Simmons was doing with the Haines Economic Development Corp.

“I said, well with all the flooding, thank God you are in high country so you are not going to get flooded out,” Randy Simmons said. “It never crossed my mind that the mountain was going to come down and scrape his house off the face of the earth.”

David Simmons smiles for a photo with his father Randy Simmons.
David Simmons smiles for a photo with his father Randy Simmons.(Courtesy of Randy Simmons)

Randy Simmons said his son was renting out an apartment above his detached garage to two other people including Larson. Olerud said there have been no reports of causalities at this time, but Randy Simmons said he fears for the worst.

“His house was crushed and pushed out into the ocean and he was in it. So yeah, he’s gone,” he said. “I just hope they can recover his body.”

”There was never a person that wasn’t David’s friend,” Randy Simmons said, adding that his son was his best friend in the world.

Randy Simmons describes his son as an avid adventurer, generous with his kindness and a knack for making friends. After visiting close to 80 countries, David Simmons settled on Haines as his forever place.

“I feel so blessed that he discovered Haines and realized it is, you know, in his mind, the most beautiful place in the world and planned his entire life there,” Randy Simmons said.

The place David Simmons decided to make home was where new college graduate Larson had her homecoming this year, transitioning from student to teacher, taking a job teaching kindergarten with the school district she grew up in, Roy Getchell the superintendent for the Haines School District told Alaska’s News Source in an interview Thursday. Getchell expressed hope Larson and David Simmons might still be found alive.

“Whenever there’s bad news during dark days, Haines shines its best. And I have hope in the people that are out there looking for her,” Getchell said.

Getchell said Larson has a gift for teaching and working with children that few educators display so early in their careers.

“We’re so privileged to have her. She’s a Haines school graduate, a Haines school, local Alaska grown educator. That’s not why we hired her. She’s phenomenal with kids well beyond her years, wise beyond her years. And it’s just been a tremendous asset to our staff in a very short amount of time,” Getchell said.

Starting the profession during a pandemic may not have been ideal, yet Larson has still excelled, he said.

“Could you imagine starting your career during COVID? It’s been difficult. She stepped right up and she continues to step up. And we’re proud that she’s part of our staff,” Getchell said.

In her bio, she says she attended Haines School from pre-K to 12th grade before graduating from the University of Idaho with a degree in elementary education in May.

“I love Haines and our school district and all that it can offer, and I look forward to exploring, discovering, new friendships, and all the adventures we will embark on in Kindergarten,” she said on the page

Getchell said Larson’s teaching colleagues are among the search party. While it has felt like a very dark time, Getchell said the community is hopeful Larson and Simmons will be found, adding that the tremendous outpouring of support for Haines, and for victims of the landslide, has helped.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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